Skip to main content
Unit outline_

ARHT3636: Contemporary Indigenous Art

Semester 1, 2020 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit explores the diversity of Indigenous art practice and its inclusion within the fields of contemporary art. Through in-death visual analysis of individual artists and art producing communities, the unit will consider distinct Indigenous art practices and relate them to issues of cultural and political sovereignty, colonisation, land rights and representation. Problematising the historical and contemporary reception of Indigenous art, we aim to understand the Indigenous systems of value that shape the creation and circulation of Indigenous art.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit Art History
Credit points 6
12 credit points at 2000 level in Art History or 12 credit points at 2000 level in Indigenous Studies or 12 credit points at 2000 level in Critical Studies
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Stephen Gilchrist,
Lecturer(s) Stephen Gilchrist,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Presentation Presentation
Presentation, moderation and discussion of topic questions
20% Ongoing
Due date: 05 Mar 2020 at 13:00

Closing date: 28 May 2020
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6
Assignment Visual analysis
35% Week 05
Due date: 05 Apr 2020 at 23:59

Closing date: 19 Apr 2020
1500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO6 LO7
Assignment Research essay
45% Week 14 (STUVAC)
Due date: 07 Jun 2020 at 23:59

Closing date: 21 Jun 2020
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO7

Assessment summary

  • Class participation & tutorial presentation:  A signup sheet will be handed out during the first tutorial. The tutorial presentation should last 10-15 minutes. The presentations should provide a critical introduction to both required (and/or recommended, if applicable) readings, and should demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the articles and/or books under review. Please summarise the author’s argument(s), identify how these contribute to our class session’s theme, and open up issues raised in the text(s) for further class discussion. In particular, you should address how these contribute to our knowledge or understanding of Indigenous art. You should prepare two questions to pose to the class to generate discussion at the end of your presentation.
  • Visual analysis: Choose a work of art that is currently on display from the Indigenous collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales to research and write an in depth analysis of it as if an extended wall label. This is an exercise in looking, researching and writing. Your object-centric observations should include interpretations of intent and significance. Give pertinent but brief biographical information about the artist, including but not limited to his or her language group; art-school training if any; artistic influences; if the work is typical or atypical in the artist’s oeuvre how it fits within the trajectory of the artist and or his or her community. This should be no more than 2 paragraphs.

  • Final research paper: The Final Research Paper is intended to be an in-depth exploration of one of the questions found at the top of each weekly tutorial reading. You may choose your own question in discussion with your Lecturer. The goal is to provide you with the opportunity to further pursue something that has piqued your interest or curiosity during the semester in light of the content and themes of this course. An excellent research paper will present and support a coherent argument, drawing from at least three course readings, class discussions and creatively synthesising your own thoughts. I expect your work to be insightful and original, and your essay to demonstrate the highest standards of professional presentation (formatted, proofread, spell-checked, and well-referenced). Your grade will reflect how well your writing engages the themes, concepts, and terminology we use in class; and the clarity, thoughtfulness, and persuasiveness of your argument. I am happy to answer any questions by appointment or over email.

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100



75 - 84



65 - 74



50 - 64



0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.


For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 IN THE BEGINNING: Foundational concepts and methodologies Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 02 THE MEMORY OF PLACE: Art of the South-East Lecture (2 hr)  
Required visit to one public program at untitled (maraong manaóuwi) by Jonathan Jones at Hyde Park Barracks Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 03 FIRST CITIZEN: Albert Namatjira, Assimilation and the Hermannsburg School Field trip (2 hr)  
Week 04 LOCAL AND GLOBAL: Papunya and the category of the contemporary Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 05 SHOCK OF THE ANCIENT: Art of the Western and Central Deserts Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 06 EULOGIES IN OCHRE: Art from the Tiwi Islands and the East Kimberley Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 07 INDIGENOUS PHOTOGRAPHY: Daguerreotypes, Stereotypes, Prototypes: Indigenous Photography Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 08 COLLECTIVE CREATION: Art Centre Models across Australia including, Boomalli and proppaNow Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 09 REGISTERS OF KNOWLEDGE: Bark Painting from Arnhem Land Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 10 REGIMES OF VALUE: The Art Market, Resale Royalty, Copyright Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 11 INDIGENISING MUSEUMS AND ARCHIVES: Repatriation, Activism and the Politics of Curation Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 12 ARTIST TALKS Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 13 SOMETHING MORE: Land Rights, Sovereignty and Treaties Lecture (2 hr)  

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: According to Faculty Board Resolutions, students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are expected to attend 90% of their classes. If you attend less than 50% of classes, regardless of the reasons, you may be referred to the Examiner’s Board. The Examiner’s Board will decide whether you should pass or fail the unit of study if your attendance falls below this threshold.
  • Lecture recording: Most lectures (in recording-equipped venues) will be recorded and may be made available to students on the LMS. However, you should not rely on lecture recording to substitute your classroom learning experience.
  • Preparation: Students should commit to spend approximately three hours’ preparation time (reading, studying, homework, essays, etc.) for every hour of scheduled instruction.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. understand the cosmological dimension of Indigenous Art and the diversity of Indigenous contemporary art practice
  • LO2. relate contemporary art practice to issues of assimilation, colonisation, sovereignty, reconciliation, formulations of nationhood and alternative citizenship, intersectionality and social justice
  • LO3. problematise the dichotomies between remote/urban, art/craft, ethnography/art, prehistory/history, traditional/contemporary
  • LO4. understand the multiple regimes of value that shape the creation and circulation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in Australia and globally
  • LO5. demonstrate knowledge of the historical reception of Indigenous art and the shifting frameworks of Indigenous museology
  • LO6. engage with works of art and discuss them in relation to art historical, critical, political and theoretical interpretations of Aboriginal art
  • LO7. demonstrate skills in critical reading, writing and thinking.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

'No changes have been made since this unit was last offered'.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.