Spinifex People as Cold War Moderns

Greg Castillo


Aboriginal Australian contemporary artists create works that express indigenous traditions as well as the unprecedented conditions of global modernity. This is especially true for the founders of the Spinifex Arts Project, a collective established in 1997 to create so-called “government paintings”: the large-scale canvases produced as documents of land tenure used in negotiations with the government of Western Australia to reclaim expropriated desert homelands. British and Australian nuclear testing in the 1950s displaced the Anangu juta pila nguru, now known to us as the Spinifex people, from their nomadic lifeworld. Exodus and the subsequent struggle to regain lost homelands through paintings created as corroborating evidence for native title claims make Spinifex canvases not simply expressions of Tjukurpa, or “Dreamings,” but also artifacts of the atomic age and its impact on a culture seemingly far from the front lines of cold war conflict.


Spinifex people; Spinifex Arts Project; Aboriginal art; Cold War; Pila Nguru;

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/contemp.2015.144

License URL: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/