Keep it. Where?
Gordon Syron, father of the urban-contemporary Aboriginal arts movement in Sydney and his wife Elaine, have spent over 30 years collecting a breath-taking range of indigenous art and artefacts.
The collection includes the subversive and political art of Syron himself and the work of over 400 other artists. Documenting the rise of Aboriginal urban art in the 1980s and 90s, it contains Indigenous and non-Indigenous photography of the sit-ins and the struggle for the Redfern’s famous ‘Block’. The collection is poignant commentary, social history and insurgent art rolled into one.
But the Syrons are having trouble finding a home for the collection and it’s partly to do with the way Aboriginal culture is compartmentalised. Which goes like this: if it isn’t a dot painting then it isn’t worth much. If it isn’t a traditional object belonging to a particular group or community it can’t be kept in a Keeping Place. If it isn’t an activity or art show/exhibition or installation, then it can’t live in an Aboriginal Cultural Centre. So where does a collection like this finally find a home?
Documenting the rise of Aboriginal urban art in the 1980s and 90s, the collection is poignant commentary, social history and insurgent art rolled into one.
There’s a long history and good argument why the collection should be kept together and controlled, maintained and interpreted by Aboriginal people themselves, given that Aboriginal cultural products have been commandeered and commodified by non-Aboriginal people since colonisation.
Undoubtedly there are those waiting in the wings with market driven desires; waiting to see if the collection can be divided up and the ‘best’ bits picked out and sold off, waiting for history to repeat itself while art collectors get rich and Aboriginal people lose connection with their past.
The collection should be seen as more than the sum of its parts and according to its high profile patrons should not be sold off. Those advocating for keeping the collection intact and displayed as a whole is an impressive lineup. The heavyweights include former high court judge and champion of human rights, The Hon Michael Kirby; Eualeyai/Kamillaroi woman, barrister and currently Professor of Indigenous Research at the University of Technology, Larissa Behrendt; Senior Curator and Principal Indigenous Advisor at the National Museum of Australia, Margo Neale; and Dr Jeff McMullen, formerly of 60 Minutes.
So why not throw your support behind the Syron’s plea to find a public domain keeping place for their collection–somewhere tourists and schoolchildren and Aboriginal people themselves can have direct access to the continuing story of Sydney’s Aboriginality.