Ontologies of the image and economies of exchange

Fred Myers

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    In the early 1970s, the Aboriginal artist and activist Wandjuk Marika asked the Australian government to investigate the unauthorized use of Yolngu clan designs on a variety of commodity forms, inaugurating a process of recognizing Indigenous ownership of "copyright" in such designs. This treatment of design-and of cuLture-as a form of property involves understandings and practices of materiality and subjectivity that differ from those informing indigenous, Aboriginal relationships to cultural production and circulation. In this article I explore the significance for material culture theory of recent work on and events in the development of notions of cultural property. One of my main concerns is the relevance of local understandings of objectification, or objectness, and human action-as embedded in object-ideologies. I discuss the limited capacity of legal discourses of cultural property to capture and reflect the concerns of Indigenous Australians about their own relation to culture, to creativity, and to expression.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)5-20
    Number of pages16
    JournalAmerican Ethnologist
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Feb 2004


    • Art
    • Copyright
    • Indigenous Australia
    • Materiality

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anthropology


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