Diplomatic Subversion: Indigenous Art as an Alternative Form of Political Witnessing by Sally Butler and Roland Bleiker

The purpose of this chapter is to examine how Australian Indigenous art can be seen as an alternative form of political witnessing.  We examine two important instances of cultural diplomacy in Australia’s history, one in 1941 and the other in 2009.  In each case an extensive exhibition containing Indigenous art was staged in the US to gain political legitimacy and influence.  But in each case Indigenous art also resisted and subverted the government’s effort to appropriate art for narrow political purposes.  Instead, the ambivalent nature of art managed to insert an alternative form of political witnessing: one that highlighted – against prevailing political discourses - the subjugation of Indigenous life and the demand for sovereignty.