Spinifex People as Cold War Moderns


  • Greg Castillo College of Environmental Design, University of California at Berkeley




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


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.

Author Biography

Greg Castillo, College of Environmental Design, University of California at Berkeley


Greg Castillo, an architectural and design historian, is an Associate Professor at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkley, and a Research Associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia. His work has focused on design politics in the early cold war era and the counterculture moment of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. He has delivered public lectures at the New York Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery of Denmark and universities internationally. He is the author of numerous articles, anthology chapters, and the monograph Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design (2010).




How to Cite

Castillo, G. (2015). Spinifex People as Cold War Moderns. Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture, 4, 71–94. https://doi.org/10.5195/contemp.2015.144