Matters of Appearance: Black Lives Matter and Decolonising Visual Culture in Nyungar Boodjah


A free panel discussion as part of the John Curtin Gallery Speaker Series for 50fifty:2020

Wednesday 26 August 2020
5:30pm – 7:30pm at John Curtin Gallery, Building 200A, Bentley Campus

Opening Address 

INGRID CUMMING, Nyungar Cultural Advisor, Curtin University


HANNAH McGLADE (Curtin University): “Monuments and the decolonization of public spaces in Noongar Boodjah”

MICHELLE BROUN (Museum of Western Australia): “Timeliness and Visual Truth-telling”

SHAHEEN HUGHES (Museum of Freedom and Tolerance, WA): “Saying their names: Creative activism in the pursuit of decolonising civic space globally”

ANNA ARABINDAN-KESSON (Princeton University) “Re-sighting History: Artists, Activism and Public Memory”

    Convenor: SUVENDRINI PERERA (Curtin University)

Projectionist: Steven Aliyan

The political scientist Hannah Arendt uses the term ‘space of appearance’ to suggest public political space where we interact and ‘appear’ to one another as political actors. More recently, the visual theorist Nicholas Mirzoeff uses the term ‘space of appearance’ to describe the global emergence of the BLM movement. Through a series of creative and performative actions (die-ins, public iterations of phrases such as ‘I can’t breathe’ and ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’), BLM protesters made hitherto largely invisible dimensions of police violence ‘seeable’ or perceptible to a larger public. Similarly, racialised deaths and Deaths in Custody have claimed a space of appearance in public debates in Australia through diverse visual and performative projects such as the Newcastle University Indigenous Massacre Map and the Deathscapes project.

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to transform global consciousness, questions of everyday visual culture and the decolonization of public space have come to the fore. Locally, in solidarity with the BLM protests, the names of some of the hundreds of Indigenous people who have died in custody were projected on a landmark sculpture by Marcus Canning, known as the Rainbow (or Containbow) and located at 1 Canning Highway in Walyalup (Fremantle). The projections bring into focus relations of place, visibility, history and the resonance of the BLM movement in WA, the state with the largest number of Indigenous deaths in custody. The panel discusses the meaning and significance of this visual projection and broader questions of political ‘appearance’, creative activism and the decolonization of visual culture and public space in Nyungar Boodjah.   

Free event.  Refreshments will be served.


ANNA ARABINDAN-KESSON is an Assistant Professor of African American and Black Diaspora Art at Princeton University. Her research and teaching focus on the intersection of visual culture, histories of race and empire, and their legacies today. She is working on projects about unfree labour and colonial medicine in the nineteenth-century which connect Australia, the Caribbean and the Americas. Her first book, Black Bodies, White Gold: Art, Cotton and Commerce in the Atlantic World will be published by Duke University Press early next year.

MICHELLE BROUN was born Perth, Western Australia. Her mother is Yindjibarndi from the Pilbara region of Western Australia.   She has Scottish ancestry on her father’s side- descending from the invaders of Nyoongar Boodja and something to be reconciled moving forward. Michelle studied Aboriginal and Intercultural Studies and Fine Arts at ECU.  She is a qualified cultural planner, and has worked as a free-lance artist, curator and writer, a Project and Policy Officer with the Department of Culture and the Arts, and CEO of an Indigenous publisher.  She managed the Indigenous Community Stories, an oral -history- on- film program at the Film and Television Institute of WA for 3 years, producing over 30 short films in partnership with Aboriginal Elders and communities across WA.  She currently works at the WA Museum as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Curator for the New Museum Project.  She is honoured to work alongside Elders and community, to create space for the voices of our people, share our rich cultures and histories with the broader community, to break down stereotypes and be a part of the truth- telling.   

SHAHEEN HUGHES is the CEO of the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance and is passionate about the role of creative activism and the pursuit of social justice through the creative arts. 

 HANNAH MCGLADE is a Noongar woman from Western Australia and her career has focused on justice for Aboriginal people, race discrimination law and practice, Aboriginal women and children, family violence and sexual assault. Currently Dr McGlade is a Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University and an Advisor to the Noongar Council for Family Safety and Wellbeing. Dr McGlade is also a member of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, the Western Australia Mental Health Tribunal and the Medical Board of Australia.

SUVENDRINI PERERA is John Curtin Distinguished Professor of Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Creative Arts & Social Inquiry at Curtin University. She is the lead researcher on the Deathscapes Project.

SPECIAL THANKS: Museum of Freedom and Tolerance, WA;  School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University.



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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.