By Eric Michaels
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Additional info for Bad Aboriginal Art : Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons (Theory Out of Bounds, Vol 3)
Of all the public ceremonies, or public sequences of Warlpiri ceremony, the fire ceremony is the most visually striking. Fire is a powerful and polysemic symbol in the Warlpiri iconography and is an important economic tool in a spinifex desert. The 1967 film was particularly significant because, after Michaels showed it, interest was regenerated in performing the ceremony. Inci dentally, in 1986 near Yuendumu he recorded a second version of a Warlpiri fire ceremony (unnamed) on low-band video with the Warlpiri Media Association.
It is worth saying from the outset that for photographers to insist on their prerogatives, even to assert a bargaining position, is a little like a felon on trial claiming the right to overrule the presiding judge on matters of law. A more helpful stance for media practitioners would be to attempt to collaborate with Aborigines, beginning this even before bringing out the camera, familiarizing them with the type of media and its consequences but reserving juridical authority for Aborigines themselves.
For some time secrecy will be guarded, to protect the value of the material for the neighboring community. But after subsequent exchanges, a secret item might well become public over time in the original community (while remaining highly restricted at the "leading edge" of the exchange route). This has been demonstrated to be the case with current dances that are performed publicly at Cape York but are restricted now in Central Australia. Similarly, certain trade items such as feathers and shells are publicly displayed near their sources but are highly restricted objects in distant areas.
Bad Aboriginal Art : Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons (Theory Out of Bounds, Vol 3) by Eric Michaels