Image via AP.

Earlier this week, a section of ever-present performance artist Marina Abramovińá‚Äôs memoir, Walk Through Walls, in which she discusses indigenous Australians, began circulating on social media. In the uncorrected proof, Abramovińá describes ‚ÄúAborigines‚ÄĚ as ‚Äúreally strange and different,‚ÄĚ while offering a handful of very dumb observations steeped in a particular fetish for so-called primitive cultures. Today, publishers confirmed that the proof, which led to the Twitter hashtag #TheRacistIsPresent‚ÄĒa reference to her 2010 Museum of Modern Art performance, The Artist is Present‚ÄĒwill be edited and the reference to indigenous Australians removed.

The passage, which Artforum notes was taken from a 1979 entry in Abramovińá‚Äôs journal, describes an encounter the artist had with indigenous Australians after the Sydney Biennale. After the Biennale, she and her then-partner Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen) spent six months in the Great Victoria Desert with the Pintupi and Pitjantjatjara tribes. In the memoir proof, Abramovińá describes the tribes as ‚Äúthe oldest race on the planet,‚ÄĚ adding that, ‚Äúthey look like dinosaurs.‚ÄĚ There‚Äôs more:

They are really strange and different, and they should be treated as living treasures. Yet they are not.

‚ÄúBut at the same time, when you first meet them, you have to put effort into it. For one thing, to Western eyes they look terrible. Their faces are like no other faces on earth; they have big torsos (just one bad result of their encounter with Western civilisation is a high sugar diet that bloats their bodies) and sticklike legs.‚ÄĚ

Abramovińá responded to the criticism of the passage on her Facebook page. In her post, she said she has ‚Äúthe greatest respect for Aborigine people, to whom I owe everything.‚ÄĚ She added that the passage, ‚Äúdoes not represent the understanding and appreciation of Aborigines that I subsequently acquired through immersion in their world and carry in my heart today.‚ÄĚ

Abramovińá has spoken extensively about her time in the Great Victoria Desert and her time with the Pintupi and Pitjantjatjara, crediting it with a ‚Äúhuge shift in my consciousness.‚ÄĚ She‚Äôs previously said that works like The Artist Is Present, as well as earlier works like Nightsea Crossing, which many consider a precursor to the more recent and better known MoMa performance, were inspired by the ‚Äústillness‚ÄĚ she discovered during those six months. Sure, but there‚Äôs still something uncomfortable even in this contextualization. The role of the ‚Äúprimitive‚ÄĚ culture‚ÄĒoften depicted as simple, because it lacks Western pretenses‚ÄĒhas a long history in Western visual culture (a whole movement, even); one that‚Äôs deeply tied to colonialism and its lingering effects.


It‚Äôs a problem that‚Äôs plagued modern and post-modern art, this utter and absolute belief that cultures that don‚Äôt share the avant-gardist values of the Western art world must, somehow, be purer or closer to nature, and Abramovińá certainly isn‚Äôt alone either treatment or approach. Earlier this month, artist Vannessa Beecroft reveled in what Julianne described as ‚Äúracial fantasies... doused with a bit of poverty tourism.‚ÄĚ

Katie West, an artist of Yindjibarndi descent, told The Guardian that Abramovińá words were, ‚Äúno different to the diary entries of early colonizers.‚ÄĚ West continued:

The Indigenous Australian population is made up of individuals with their own lived experiences. In this excerpt, it seems this hasn‚Äôt crossed Abramovińá‚Äôs mind, and given the nature of her work, this is quite baffling.