Comments regarding indigenous Australians in the uncorrected proof of performance artist Marina Abramović’s forthcoming memoir, Walk Through Walls, which have caused a great deal of backlash against her on social media (via #TheRacistIsPresent), will be edited out of the final copy, writes Steph Harmon of The Guardian.
Abramović’s words are from a 1979 diary entry, when she was in the Sydney Biennale and still with her collaborator/lover Frank Uwe Laysiepen, more famously known as Ulay. They both ended up spending six months with the Pintupi and Pitjantjatjara tribes in the Great Victorian Desert. She wrote: “Aborigines are not just the oldest race in Australia; they are the oldest race on the planet. They look like dinosaurs. They are really strange and different, and they should be treated as living treasures. Yet they are not. But at the same time, when you first meet them, you have to put effort into it. For one thing, to Western eyes they look terrible. Their faces are like no other faces on earth; they have big torsos (just one bad result of their encounter with Western civilisation is a high sugar diet that bloats their bodies) and sticklike legs.”
Abramović says that her feelings towards them have changed a great deal since her diary entry from 1979: “I have the greatest respect for aborigine people, to whom I owe everything. The time I spent with members of the Pijantjatjara and Pintupi tribes in Australia was a transformative experience for me, and one that has deeply and indelibly informed my entire life and art. . . [My comments do] not represent the understanding and appreciation of aborigines that I subsequently acquired through immersion in their world and carry in my heart today.”
“In essence, this is no different to the diary entries of early colonizers and more recent policy makers,” said Katie West, an artist and descendant of the Yindjibarndi people, to the Guardian. “The indigenous Australian population is made up of individuals with their own lived experiences. In this excerpt, it seems this hasn’t crossed Abramović’s mind, and given the nature of her work, this is quite baffling.”