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Teaching with a Collection

Hood Quarterly, autumn 2012
Nicole Gilbert [Williams], Exhibitions Coordinator

In the cold months of winter term 2012, twenty Dartmouth students met three days a week to be taken on a journey through the vibrant regions of Australia, learning about the works of art and culturally significant objects produced by Indigenous communities from the desert to the islands and within urban centers as well. Stephen Gilchrist, Curator of Indigenous Australian Art at the Hood, focused his undergraduate course, “Indigenous Australian Art and the Politics of Curation,” on the aesthetic values of the art but also led discussions on Indigenous identity, the history of the land and people, and the challenges of curating Indigenous Australian art collections within both Australian and American museums. The class further explored these issues through group discussion, presentations, writing assignments, and readings.

I was fortunate to be a member of this class as a Dartmouth M.A.L.S. student. What added an exceptional dimension to the course were the classes held in the Hood’s Bernstein Study-Storage Center, where we took in the visual brilliance of the works of art firsthand in an intimate setting. As the class sat encircled by natural ochres skillfully laid upon dried bark, large-scale portrait photography of rich tonal qualities, and vibrant patterns of polymer paint dancing across canvases, we considered not only the artistic techniques of each work but also their sociopolitical attributes and the artists’ intent. The physical presence of these works, otherwise only seen in our textbooks or as digital reproductions, was now very much alive in front of us. We explored curatorial decisions about how they might be displayed in a gallery setting and how this would affect and determine cultural representation.

This fall, Professor Howard Morphy, Director of the Research School of Humanities and the Arts, College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University, Canberra, will teach a course for Dartmouth undergraduates through the Department of Anthropology. Morphy’s seminar “Form, Context, and Meaning in Aboriginal Australian Art” will take a comparative approach, covering the significance of art within Aboriginal society and analyzing the historical processes that led to its recognition as contemporary fine art. This class will have the special opportunity to utilize over one hundred works from the Hood’s Owen and Wagner collection of contemporary Australian Aboriginal art, on view throughout the fall in all of the second-floor galleries. 

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