Convenient canvasses: An archaeology of social identity and contemporary graffiti in Jawoyn Country, NT, Australia

19th December 2012

Jordan Ralph

This collaborative project with members of three Jawoyn communities involves research into the contemporary graffiti of Barunga, Beswick and Manyallaluk in the Northern Territory (NT), Australia. The data consists of contemporary graffiti recorded at corridor and aggregation sites (roadways and meeting shelters) directly outside of the focus communities, as well as ethnographies of people living in these communities.

Contemporary graffiti was recorded on 277 government- and  community-authored  road  signs  along  the  Central Arnhem and Manyallaluk Road corridors, as well as four aggregation sites (the Barunga, Beswick, Manyallaluk and Jawoyn  meeting  shelters).  These  aggregation  sites,  and indeed some of the road signs, have a direct relationship with government policies associated with the Liquor Act 1975 and the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. While the main purpose of the meeting shelters is to provide an area close to the communities where the consumption of liquor is legal, this is not the only activity that takes place here;  ethnographies  collected  with  community  members demonstrate that these shelters are places where people go to connect with kin and country. While these shelters are made from iron, they are reminiscent of ancient landscape-marking rockshelters  due  to  the  abundance  of  motifs  associated within them.

This study explores the roles that government policy and community  social  strategy  have  played  in  contemporary expressions  of  social  identity.  It  focuses  on  intragroup versus  intergroup  messaging  in  place-marking  and  mark- making practices. The statistical analysis of contemporary graffiti from Jawoyn Country shows that graffiti plays the intragroup purpose of communication between community members, rather than the intergroup purpose of propagating political and social commentary. The purpose of graffiti as it is practiced in Jawoyn Country is more closely aligned to an ongoing cultural tradition of ‘rock art’ production and landscape-marking than it is to the contemporary graffiti expressions often  found  in urban  settings. The results  of this study demonstrate the strength of cultural continuity in Jawoyn Country, even during a period of major government intervention.

Jordan Ralph
Convenient canvasses: An archaeology of social identity and contemporary graffiti in Jawoyn Country, NT, Australia
2012
75
130-131
Thesis Abstracts
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