Author Archives: jordanralph

National Archaeology Week 2014: Events in South Australia

National Archaeology Week 2014 is creeping up fast! Starting next Sunday, the 18th of May, NAW 2014 in South Australia is packed with a variety of public engagement initiatives. Many thanks to City of Tea Tree Gully Library, Old Highercombe Hotel Museum, Tea Tree Gully and Districts Historical Society, Flinders University Archaeology Department, the Flinders Archaeological Society, the South Australian Museum, and the South Australian Archaeology Society for organising this year’s events!

Please click this link to download the NAW 2014 SA flyer for more information: NAW 2014 SA Events.

For more information on NAW, please see the NAW Facebook page, Twitter account (@archaeologyweek), or contact Jordan Ralph, SA Coordinator of National Archaeology Week.

In South Australia, National Archaeology Week is incorporated into About Time, SA’s History Festival. For more on About Time and the many events on offer, please see their informative website or pick up a program from your local library.

NAW_General_Poster

Uncommissioned, Commissioned and Official: a different approach to contemporary graffiti

Distinguishing ‘legal’ public art from ‘illegal’ urban art, or ‘graffiti’, was a major theme that I addressed in my Honours thesis, Convenient Canvasses: an archaeology of social identity and contemporary graffiti in Jawoyn country, Northern Territory, Australia, which I submitted a few weeks ago. I have noticed a recent increase in the number of posts on this blog, including those of fellow students Susan Arthure and Daniel Petraccaro, which discuss ‘graffiti’ and its place in heritage and archaeology. I thought I would join in.

Throughout my research I approached graffiti as a vital artefact in the understanding of social identity and its capacity as a vehicle for protest against governmental policy, such as the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. Essentially, I treated the contemporary graffiti of Jawoyn country as ancient landscape-markings, and the graffiti supports as though they were rock shelters. I did not want to approach the graffiti as though they were a manifestation of anti-social behaviour.

I treated these corrugated iron shelters, which featured between 52 and 205 uncommissioned graffiti motifs, as though they were ancient landscape-marking shelters.

My research took place in Jawoyn country in the Northern Territory, where landscape-marking, or ‘rock-art’ has been practiced as a form of communication for thousands of years*. This landscape-marking tradition continues today in Jawoyn country, however we refer to it as ‘graffiti’. My research focused on a particular type of graffiti: the seemingly illegal, opportunistic markings that individuals scribbled, scratched, sprayed, or wrote on surfaces in the natural and built landscapes; however I encountered several other graffiti types as well.

The superimposition of discriminatory uncommissioned graffiti over commissioned graffiti.

During the data collection, while examining a mural in the Barunga community, I began to think about the definition of graffiti and I asked myself: is this really a commissioned mural, or has someone painted it there without permission? Is it graffiti? My understanding of the term ‘graffiti’ evolved over the next few months to include ‘street art’, public art and regulatory signage, such as the example above. There is a whole section in my thesis dedicated to defining graffiti and the justification of that definition, which you can find by downloading a copy here. In the context of my research, graffiti is defined as a form of visual communication and intended human-made marking that occurs publicly on any fixed surface in the natural and built landscapes. Regardless of form, material, technique, legality and social and cultural acceptances, graffiti is communication through landscape-marking be it ‘uncommissioned’, ‘commissioned’ or ‘official’ graffiti.  The difference between these graffiti categories is in the authorship.

Uncommissioned graffiti: markings that do not have appropriate permissions. These are the uncensored and uninstitutionalised markings made by individuals as intra-group (within a group) and inter-group (between groups) messages, often in the form of, but in no way limited to, the ‘tags’ one would find spray-painted on a wall or train. Much of the graffiti in this classification can be construed as vandalism. Practitioners of this landscape-marking behaviour do so to associate and communicate with other members of a group, to propagate personal ideals or even to demarcate boundaries and eternalise their presence.

Commissioned graffiti: public art and advertising such as authorised murals, sculptures, statues, billboards and posters. This is a negotiated community action involving intra-group and inter-group messaging. Prior permission is sought for commissioned graffiti in the form of verbal or written contracts, often with an exchange of capital. There is a fine line between what constitutes commissioned and uncommissioned graffiti. The two classifications are so closely linked that authors, styles, forms, materials, techniques and messages of commissioned graffiti are frequently interchangeable with those of uncommissioned graffiti.

Commissioned graffiti: a mural in Barunga

Official graffiti: markings made to govern, inform, instruct and control. Institutions including businesses, local councils, government departments and other organisations predominantly author these inter-group messages in the form of official graffiti. Official graffiti includes everything from the white lines and arrows painted on road surfaces to geodetic survey markers to traffic signs.

Official graffiti, featuring uncommissioned graffiti

These classifications are based on authorship of contemporary landscape-markings as well as the permissions, or lack thereof, that legalise, or indeed criminalise the practice, rather than the core social attitudes that are attached to it. The diagram below shows that these categories are separate, yet they overlap in some instances.

Graffiti categories according to authorship

My research demonstrates that all communication through landscape-marking can be referred to as graffiti. My definition, which is less concerned with any legal and social issues, situates uncommissioned graffiti as being of equal importance in a network of visual cultures that includes murals and regulatory signs.

Jordan Ralph

This is the first of a series of blogs about my graffiti research. You can also find out more about my research via my blog or by following me on twitter: @JordsRalph

*I prefer to use the term landscape-marking over rock-art because I want to emphasise the relationship that these visual cultures have with the landscape and while I realise that rock-art is the conventional term, I believe that it relies too heavily on a single method and surface type.

ArchSoc’s Trip to Port Arthur

A few weeks have passed since the Flinders Archaeological Society (ArchSoc) sent six of our members and two of our committee to help the Port Arthur Historic Sites Management Authority (PAHSMA) with their artefact collection from the 2011 Hobart Penitentiary Chapel excavations.

From left to right- Back: David Roe, Jeanne Harris, Tom Lally, Ilona Bartsch, Maxim Ayres and Louisa Fischer. Front: Andrew Wilkinson, Leah Ralph, Annita Waghorn, Lauren Davison and Holly Winter.

As you can see from the blog entries that the participants wrote at the end of each day, everyone enjoyed themselves and learnt a lot. This is the first time ArchSoc has organised a field trip like this and it is a testament to the dedication and organisation of this year’s committee that the trip went off without a hitch.

On behalf of ArchSoc, I would like to thank those that helped make this trip possible from the onset. Thanks go to Claire Smith, whose networking made this possible, Natalie Bittner, who along with myself, conducted the initial consultations with PAHSMA, and to David Roe and Annita Waghorn from PAHSMA, who were both more than happy to host several student volunteers.

BBQ in the Plaza @ Flinders

I would also like to thank those that helped in the planning stages and those that helped us in our more-than-successful fundraising BBQ and Bake Sale including the ArchSoc Committee and staff from the Department of Archaeology. There are too many individuals to name, but you all know who you are.

Thanks to everyone that applied to go on this trip, sorry we couldn’t accommodate all of you and to Andrew Wilkinson and Tom Lally who co-ordinated the trip at short notice when it was clear that I could no longer attend.

Lastly, a very big thank you goes to Jeanne Harris, David Roe and Annita Waghorn from PAHSMA for hosting ArchSoc on what was a very successful trip. We hope this is the start of a long relationship.

Bake Sale in the Humanities Courtyard

The professionalism of our committee and participants is highlighted in an email that David Roe sent to me shortly after the trip:

“From our perspective the week was a great success: we were able to get a number of important fieldwork jobs done and a significant hole has been made in the cataloguing task for the Penitentiary Chapel assemblage.  Jeanne, Annita and I were impressed with the Flinders contingent: they worked hard and were a pleasure to have around.  Their enthusiasm and conduct reflects most admirably upon the Flinders ArchSoc in particular and the University in general.  Please accept our thanks for having organised and underwritten the trip; we look forward to more such visits in the future.”

Again, thanks to all involved!

Jordan Ralph

President, Flinders Archaeological Society

Sorting artefacts in the Port Arthur lab

This post originally featured on ArchSoc’s blog @ www.flindersarchsoc.com

Gunbalanya Repatriation – Stealing is No Bloody Good

This post discusses part of the Barunga, NT Rock Art Field School, with a focus on one of the more significant social and political events that occurred in 2011. I was a volunteer demonstrator on this field school because it was taking place in the area that I am conducting my research and I was due to begin my data collection. The participants of the field school were due to depart Darwin on Tuesday 19th July 2011, for Barunga but like all fieldwork, this changed…

Sally May (ANU) phoned Claire Smith on the Sunday before our departure to say the human remains that had recently been repatriated by the Smithsonian Institute (USA) as well as some Australian museums were being reburied in a ceremony at the community from which they were stolen. The largest collection of remains was taken from the Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) region of Arnhem Land as part of the Northern Australian Expedition led by Charles Mountford. Since then, the remains have resided at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Other remains from this area that have resided in Australian museums, such as the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, had also been returned.

Our detour from Darwin - Gunbalanya - Barunga

Orchestrating the return of these remains was a long process involving many consultations between the Gunbalanya community and the museums. Ultimately, the hard work of Traditional Owners and community members paid off and the remains were returned to country.

The reburial ceremony was due to take place mid-afternoon on Tuesday and we decided that this was an event not to be missed; unfortunately, repatriation of human and cultural remains does not happen very often. In order to be on time to the cermony we had to leave Monday, which posed a problem, as some people were not arriving in Darwin until 2am Tuesday!

Flinders rock art field school crew

I left Darwin on Monday morning (with fellow students, Bianca, Nessa and Yolanda), following Sally and Ele in our rental four-wheel-drives. We arrived at Gunbalanya at about four in the afternoon; the rest of the Flinders cohort was to follow as they flew into Darwin. The second convoy (Mick, Ebbsy, Beckie, Jarrad and Tegan) arrived at about eleven pm. We were sharing a run-down, asbestos-riddled house of the like that are all too common in Aboriginal communities. The final convoy (Claire, Jacko, Michael, Zidian, Andrew, Britt, Lauren, Tom, Antoinette and Rebecca) arrived at about six am Tuesday morning.

While those that had little to no sleep slept, the rest of us helped organise the post-ceremony celebrations. The Art Centre capitalised on the large number of willing volunteers, and roped a few of the Flinders crew into helping with stock-take. What a great introduction to the necessity of flexibility on fieldwork!

The Flinders staff and students played a proactive role in the organisation and running of the events of the day; Mick, Michael and I acted as photographers for the community and visually documented the procession and ceremony. The rest of the group acted as de facto caterers for the community at the celebratory BBQ.

Cooking buffalo steaks for the celebrations

While this is a positive event, the remains should never have been stolen, especially under the guise of ‘research’. I use the word ‘stolen’ and acknowledge that some may disagree with this, however, I am not a fan of beating around the bush; this is what happened, it is the way the community feels and it is the way I feel. As Traditional Owner of the region, Jacob, says in the ABC footage, “stealing is no bloody good”. It is very important to acknowledge the wrongdoings of past researchers, however righteous they believed their actions to be, so that we can continue to learn and improve our approaches to culturally sensitive materials and issues. It is an indication of the strength of the current Australian archaeological and anthropological disciplines that most contemporary research is carried out professionally and ethically.

I will not describe the official events of the day because it is something that is better seen than read.

Instead, visit these links to the ABC news reports:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-25/celebrated-homecoming/2809308

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-20/20110720bones/2802414

Official procession to the burial grounds

There is no doubt this is one of the more important social and political events that occurred in 2011; it deserved much more media coverage than it received.

Jordan Ralph

This post originally featured  on my personal blog @ jordsralph.com

All views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisations, institutions or individuals mentioned within.