The Western art world interprets art from a Western perspective. Australian Aboriginal art is therefore often displayed in Stockholm's Museum of Ethnography, while in Australia it is regarded as contemporary art and is displayed in art museums and sold in galleries. This is shown in a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
In her research, Beatrice Persson questions what contemporary art actually is, and whether the global art world really is global. By studying how Australian contemporary art is defined by art historians, cultural experts and curators in Australia, she has been able to distinguish four categories within contemporary art in Australia. Two of these categories consist of Aboriginal art: so-called traditional Aboriginal art and city-based Aboriginal art.
"Traditional Aboriginal art is art that is created by Aboriginal artists who live traditionally and work in remote communities, in territories with a connection to their ancestors' creation stories, or Dreamings," she explains. "City-based Aboriginal art, on the other hand, is created by Aboriginal artists who live in urban environments and have studied at Western art schools."
The other two categories are "young" Australian art, which is created by young Australian artists, and Asian-Australian art, which is created by artists from Asia who have immigrated to Australia.
Persson then studied the four categories in relation to the concept of cross-culture, which is illustrated on the basis of how primitive art, and non-Western art in general, has been viewed since the end of the 19th century, revealing a history of colonialism in which culture clashes have made influences and changes possible within art, but where the Western World has had the power to decide what constitutes art, and contemporaneity or "simultaneousness", a concept that can be understood as an attempt to structure different artistic expressions that are created at the same time in different closely connected but mutually incomparable cultures.
"In my research I try to use these concepts to embrace both Western and non-Western art and art that crosses the divide between different cultures – art that can be said to depict the spirit of our times."
The results of this research show that the globalised art world is still lacking a non-Western interpretation perspective.
"The fact that this interpretation perspective is missing means that we are unable to understand the significance that non-Western art has in its native cultures. This makes it impossible for Western observers to understand and interpret this art on its own terms. And if we don't know what we're seeing when looking at art, how can we view it on the same terms as Western art?"
The thesis has been successfully defended.