Welcome to the settler-colonial art history project.

    We are a group of settler art historians from Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United States who are working on a methodology for art history that responds to the peculiar and particular dynamics of settler-colonial societies. Our project is allied with contemporary developments in art historical practice, and responds especially to the growing visibility of indigenous art history and the challenges this offers for settler art historians to rethink existing approaches to art as part of wider processes of decolonization in the twenty first century.


    This project seeks to develop new methodological insights for art history that respond to the particular historical, social and cultural dynamics of settler-colonial societies that were part of the British Empire. In the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the five countries that will be analyzed by this project, settlers invaded what was defined as a virgin or empty land, and sought to replace the indigenous populations, who were pushed beyond an ever-expanding frontier. Unlike other forms of colonialism, which are driven by a logic of exploitation (extracting the value of native labor and natural resources), the Anglo model of settler-colonialism is predominantly governed by a logic of extermination, a focus on the land itself, which is emptied of its prior populations and made available for settlers to inhabit. Prior settler populations are themselves colonised, while subsequent patterns of forced and voluntary migration are carefully managed by the settler polity through racialised discourses that both enlist migrants into the project of settlement and exclude them from its full benefits. For these reasons, the settler is not a homogeneous or fixed figure but one upon whom the history of settlement has been inscribed. Our project engages particularly with settler-colonialism in former British colonies that share a very particular Imperial frame, which in turn generates a measure of discursive similarities between the countries included in this study.


    Art plays a significant role in settler-colonialism. The logic of replacement that is foundational to settler-colonial societies is both literal and rhetorical, achieved in practice (the genocide of indigenous populations in the nineteenth century) and through representations in the realm of literature and art (the dominance of landscape painting through most of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth; the figure of the vanishing indigene, the cowboy, the farmer patriarch, the explorer, etc.). A parallel cultural tradition in settler societies is the appropriation of indigenous art and culture to create a ‘native’ identity for settler populations, who thereby seek to establish both a true belonging in the new land, and a distinct identity from the homeland that they have left behind. In each case, the indigene is replaced by the settler, and this erasure is facilitated by art and other cultural practices. These practices are then further mobilized to distinguish Anglo-settlers from other migrant and diasporic communities. One of the challenges for settler-colonial art history is to address the complexities posed by migrant and diasporic communities, and to engage with settler-colonialism as an historical formation that produces specific articulations of racialised identities that extend beyond the binary of Anglo-settler and indigene.


    These dynamics are clearly visible in the national art histories of the settler countries established by – or in opposition to – the British Empire. On the one hand, this is an issue of how these histories have been written: assuming a settler perspective; appropriating or overlooking indigenous art practices; projecting the settler nation state back in time; establishing landscape as the key art genre; and making controversial claims for nationalism and settler indigeneity. All of these things serve the logic of elimination that sits at the heart of settler-colonialism. On the other hand, this is an issue of networks and connections between settler colonies: the way that these singular histories are in fact broadly similar across different countries; the realization that the same tropes and claims occur in each place (claims to ‘the unique quality of the light’, for example); the fact that the same dynamics of nationalism and settler identity are played out across these five countries, albeit with different inflections based on history, or the specifics of indigenous cultures.


    One of the key tasks of this project is to think connectively and comparatively so that these histories are brought into contact with each other. This is especially urgent because of the exceptionalism that figures in the national art histories of settler-colonial societies, especially visible in the United States. This provides the opportunity to challenge the hidden dynamics of settler-colonialism that structure national art histories and that work to eradicate the indigene and supplant the settler in their place. Settler-colonialism is itself a transnational phenomenon, and so this project operates transnationally, bringing together scholars from the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. As a group we will track links and connections between these countries, as ideas and individuals migrated from place to place following the web of empire that not only linked the imperial center to its colonies, but also tied the colonies to each other. As a group we will create a comparative analysis that enables us to understand what aspects of national art histories are generated by settler-colonialism, and what aspects are generated by the unique factors and historical contingencies of each place.


    Significantly, the United States is not often considered a settler-colonial society, and American art is not usually discussed in context of art from those countries, like Australia or Canada, that more readily acknowledge themselves as settler societies. So this project will contribute an important discussion to American art history, as well as to the art histories of the so-called ‘white dominions’ of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In a similar way, the inclusion of South Africa in our project brings into focus another complicated case study in which the dynamics of settler-colonialism are challenged by a society in which the indigenous peoples far outnumber settlers, and in which settler sovereignty has been challenged by the end of Apartheid in 1994. In turn, this raises important questions about what the ‘post-colonial’ can mean in settler-colonial societies, and the nature and possibilities of decolonization. This project exploits the broad commonalities established by Anglo settlement, and the diverse specificities generated by encounters between Anglo settlers and different indigenous peoples across a timeframe that stretches from the sixteenth century to the present, to unsettle existing narratives about art history, and to provide new and unexpected perspectives about the relationship between art practices and art history and settler-colonialism.


    The alternative framework offered by what we are calling settler-colonial art history offers scholars a new position from which they may choose to speak. Two recent disciplinary developments have amply demonstrated the need for such a position. Firstly, the nationalist lens that has foundationally shaped the art histories of settler nations has been subjected to vigorous critique by scholars who argue that it is out-of-step with a globalizing world. Yet as the discourse of Global Art Histories grows, art historians in settler societies remain eminently conscious of the importance of the local. Who, they ask, will attend to the histories of Canadian, New Zealand, Australian or South African art in the absence of a nationalist framework? As a transnational endeavor, settler-colonial art history opens up a tenable alternative to nation-based art history, where local specificities are valued but given additional significance within a broader global context. Usefully, these enquiries aim to expose how art and art historical practices have been complicit in the formulation of a narcissistic white national imaginary in the newly emerging nation states.


    Secondly, settler nations are currently witnessing the emergence of indigenous art histories written by and for resurgent indigenous populations. While nation-based art historians in settler societies increasingly recognise the importance of indigenous cultural production, the conceptual frameworks they operate within are ill-equipped to address these practices and histories, since nationalist art history is predicated on the erasure of objects by indigenous makers. By replacing the celebratory narrative of nationhood with an emphasis on the processes and impacts of the settler-invader, settler-colonial art history responds to the indigenous challenge to recognise that colonising practices continue to structure daily life in countries that have generally preferred to think of themselves as post-colonial. As a result, settler-colonial art history is not only art history about settlers and their art practices, it is also art history written by settlers who are cognizant of their historical position and who actively seek new ways to respond to both the ethical and the epistemological dilemmas created by settler-colonialism. Fundamentally settler-colonial art history is aligned with indigenous methodologies in the sense that it aspires to be decolonial and anti-racist, although we acknowledge that the framing of terms, and the stakes themselves, will by necessity be different for settler scholars. Our goal is to find ways in which settler art historians can contribute constructively and ethically to a new formulation of the role of art history in the post-colony, without monopolising or dominating the platform, and to add to critical whiteness studies a distinct exploration of settler subjectivities as a particular identification.


    Bill Anthes

    Member, Art Field Group, Pitzer College

    Bill Anthes is a member of the Art Field Group at Pitzer College. With a background in art history and the interdisciplinary field of American Studies, he teaches and writes about modern and contemporary art in terms of multimedia practice and intercultural exchange. He is author of Native Moderns: American Indian Painting, 1940-1960 (Duke University Press, 2006) and contributing author to Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice, by Rebekah Modrak (Routledge, 2011). His book on the Cheyenne-Arapaho contemporary artist Edgar Heap of Birds will be published by Duke University Press in 2015. 


    His essays and reviews have been published in American Indian Quarterly, Art Papers, Art Journal, Exposure, Great Plains Quarterly, Journal of the West, Number: An Independent Journal of the Arts, and Visual Anthropology Review. Other recent publications include the essays ‘Marisol’s Indians’, in Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper, 1955-1998, Marina Pacini, ed. (Memphis: Brooks Museum of Art and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), ‘”Why Injun Artist Me”: Acee Blue Eagle’s Diasporic Performative’, in Native Diasporas: Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas, Gregory D. Smithers and Brooke N. Newman, eds. (University of Nebraska Press, 2014), and ‘Painting/Printmaking/Drawing’, in Native Art Now: Developments in Contemporary Native American Art, 1992-2012, Kate Morris and Veronica Passalacqua, eds., (Indianapolis: Eiteljorg Museum and Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, forthcoming 2015).


    Currently, Anthes is a participant in the four-year global collaboration Multiple Modernisms, focusing on indigenous modernisms from Africa, North America, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and supported by the Leverhulme Trust in association with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge. He is also a member of the research team for the exhibition and publication Juan Downey: Radiant Nature (2017), organized by Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in collaboration with the Pitzer College Art Galleries as part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time Los Angeles/Latin America initiative. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the journal American Indian Quarterly. He has received fellowships and awards from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center, the Center for the Arts in Society at Carnegie Mellon University, the Rockefeller Foundation/Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

    Damian Skinner

    Curator of Applied Art and Design, Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

    Damian Skinner is a New Zealand art historian and curator of Applied Art and Design at the Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. He was a Newton International Fellow at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge in 2012-13. He received his PhD in art history from Victoria University of Wellington in 2006, for a thesis exploring the dynamic relationship between customary and modern Māori art in the twentieth century. This was later published as The Carver and the Artist: Māori Art in the Twentieth Century (Auckland University Press, 2008).


    He has published a number of books about Māori art, including Ihenga: The Evolution of Māori Art in the Twentieth Century (Reed Publishing, 2007), and The Passing World, The Passage of Life: John Hovell and the Art of Kōwhaiwhai (Rim Books, 2010). He was an author for the book Art in Oceania: A New History, published by Thames and Hudson in 2012. Recent articles include ‘Indigenous Primitivists: The Challenge of Māori Modernism’, World Art, v.4, n.1, 2014, pp.67-87; and ‘Settler Colonial Art History: A Proposition in Two Parts’, Journal of Canadian Art History, v.35, n.1, pp.130-173. His new book, The Māori Meeting House: Introducing the Whare Whakairo, will be published by Te Papa Press in 2015.


    Skinner is currently part of the Multiple Modernisms project, focusing on indigenous modernisms from Africa, North America, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and supported by the Leverhulme Trust in association with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge. He is also working on a project about New Commonwealth Internationalism, the period after the Second World War when many artists moved from moved from England’s ex-colonies to London to pursue their artistic practices as modernists. Alongside the widely recognized contribution of artists from Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean, Skinner is specifically exploring the contribution of artists from the so-called ‘white dominions’ and settler colonial societies of Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and Canada. The role of settler artists in New Commonwealth Internationalism is hardly acknowledged or explored, even though it appears that, for example, Australian artists were the largest single population of Commonwealth artists living in the United Kingdom. To introduce settler artists is to challenge the dominant understanding of this moment as a story of ex-colonial native artists from India, Africa and the Caribbean operating within the broad trends of decolonization in the middle of the twentieth century.

    Kristina Huneault

    Associate Professor of Art History, Concordia University

    Kristina Huneault is an Associate Professor of Art History at Concordia University, in Montreal, Canada, where she also holds a University Research Chair. As a former recipient of a Commonwealth Scholarship, which enabled her to pursue doctoral study in the United Kingdom, her colonial connections with the British Empire and its contemporary political vestiges are longstanding.


    Huneault’s early work was on British visual culture, and addressed questions of subject formation in the context of nineteenth-century narratives of gender. Her book Difficult Subjects: Working Women and British Visual Culture, 1880-1914 (Ashgate, 1999) analyzed images of female labour in order to pursue broader questions about self-other relations and the place of imagery in the construction of subjectivity. Feminism’s strongly theoretical orientation ensured that methodological considerations have been central to her scholarly practice since the beginning.


    With her return to Canada, the focus of Huneault’s work shifted to her own national context. She is one of the founders of the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative, and author and editor of works stemming from that collaborative research project, including Rethinking Professionalism: Women and Art in Canada, 1850-1970 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012). She is also a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Canadian Art History. Given the strong historical ties between Britain and Canada, however, Huneault’s work has continued to straddle an international space. Her article on Helen McNicoll, a Canadian Impressionist who lived and worked in England, was the first article on Canadian art to be published by the British journal Art History. She has also published on British artists who came to Canada and on those who portrayed Canadian sitters from the metropolitan centre.


    Inexorably, this research has led to considerations of Canada’s role as a settler nation, the place of nation-based art history in a globalizing environment, and the relations between settlers and indigenous peoples. Analysis of European representations of First Nations sitters and subjects have formed the basis of Huneault’s contributions to edited collections such as Art and the British Empire (Manchester University Press, 2007), Transculturation in British Art (Ashgate, 2012) and The Visual Politics of Psychoanalysis: Art in Post-Traumatic Cultures (I.B. Taurus, 2013). Gradually, however, her work on women artists in Canada has brought her to write about First Nations women as cultural producers, and not exclusively as subjects of representation. The ethical and methodological challenges of this work have led Huneault to her involvement with settler-colonial art history, and the broader project of rethinking both nation-based art histories and the art of empire from the colonial margins.

    Lize van Robbroeck

    Professor, Stellenbosch University

    Lize van Robbroeck was born in 1961, the year that South Africa left the commonwealth to become a republic. Her birth therefore coincided with the triumph of Afrikaner Nationalism, which had long aimed at independence from British colonial control. As such her education was framed by an Afrikaner Nationalist context of systematic apartheid segregation that informed not only her life experiences (at whites-only schools and universities) but also the content of her education, which followed the Christian National Educational principles prescribed by the state.


    She studied art history at a progressive English university during the turbulent and repressive late 1970s and early 1980s. In keeping with an emerging revisionist art history abroad, and in response to increasing political pressure within, attempts were made to redress the Eurocentric focus of the existing art history syllabus at this institution (as well as at various other liberal universities), but the teaching of contemporary South African art remained framed by the problematic extant settler colonialist literatures available on the topic.


    Van Robbroeck did her Masters dissertation on community arts in South Africa, which was a radical artistic practice largely informed by black liberation ideals. At the same time as she was conducting this research, a number of new publications emerged that heralded a significant break with extant writings on South African art, which tended to focus exclusively on white practice. These writings, of which her masters formed part, were strongly informed by the Marxist methodology then dominant at ‘progressive’ English universities.


    The aim of van Robbroeck’s Doctoral thesis was to examine 20th-century South African writings on modern ‘black’ art. She undertook this research because she felt an uncomfortable dis-ease towards the (largely white-authored) texts on black artistic practice she had read for my masters. This paternalistic, liberal/humanist writing, which recognised culture as the product of a ‘universal human nature’, yet incessantly raised the spectre of irreconcilable cultural essences, was familiar since it echoed the texts she had been raised with. Following Foucault’s deployment of genealogy to determine the ‘moment of arising’ of powerful epistemological and discursive practices, she attempted to trace the origins of the most definitive tropes and figures – particularly those pertaining to race, subjectivity and authorial knowledge – that these writings shared. The thesis also tracked (and attempted to account for), changing intellectual and socio-political currents in South Africa (as manifested in white-on-black art writing) up to the transition to a democracy in 1994.


    This doctoral research introduced interests (settler nationalism and its effects on local art history; modernist/colonialist discourse; race and identity) and theoretical foci (postcolonial theory, discourse analysis) that have continued to characterise her scholarly efforts. With these tools, she helped conceptualise, edit and co-author the first major post-apartheid attempt to rewrite South African art history of the twentieth century – the Visual Century Project, a four volume book set in which over 40 authors participated. Subsequently she has developed a greater psychoanalytic focus. The self-reflexive tenor of her doctoral research launched an inquiry into the psychological complexities of raced subjectivities, which broadly defines her current research interests.

    Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll

    Lecturer in Contemporary Art, University College London


    Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll is an Australian art historian and lecturer in contemporary art at University College London. She is the author most recently of Art in the Time of Colony, a history of Australian art. She holds a British Academy Newton Fellowship and a PhD from Harvard University. She is currently working on a second monograph about repatriation and human-object relationships. The book unpicks the complexities of restitution by identifying with the diverse attachments to the cultural property.


    Her publications include The Presence of Absence: Tommy McRae and Judy Watson in Australia, the imaginary grandstand at the Royal Academy in London; Object to Project: Artist’s Interventions in Museums; Small Mirrors to Large Empires: Towards a Theory of Meta-museums in Contemporary Art, and Curating Curiosity: Wonder’s Colonial Phenomenology.


    Her performances, films and installations have been shown in the 52nd Venice Biennale, the 4th Marrakech Biennale, the Institute of Contemporary Art London, and the National Museum of Australia. Her current exhibitions include Botanical Drift at Kew Gardens London, Ore Black Ore at Kunstaal Antwerp, Embassy Embassy at Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin, and Investigated at Savvy Contemporary Berlin. She has also curated various exhibitions, including Kranich Museum and Vienna Zocolo. For more information see: www.kdja.org