Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal system of knowledge
University of Chicago Press, $36.95 pb
Morphy’s monograph is an instance of a problem in anthropological writing about Australian Aboriginal people, a problem of audiences. The public this book will reach (and please and enrich enormously) is international, made up of several thousand mostly Anglophone anthropologists students of art, particularly those researching or teaching about the contexts in which the art of non-Western peoples is created and first consumed. Yet the art of North East Arnhem Land (the Nhulunbuy/Yirrkala region) appeals to a much larger and more heterogeneous public than this. It is likely that Australians comprise a majority of this second public. Morphy, adviser to the Australian National Gallery in the later 1970s and early 1980s, can take some credit for that. And there is a third and even larger public still: those Australians who infrequently go to art galleries (they might spend a few hours in the ANG on a Canberra trip) but who are susceptible to a more informed perception of the subtlety, beauty and (most important) resilience of the classical heritage of Aboriginal culture.