The way that Aboriginal art works are modified to meet the demands of the art market has been the subject of some comment and research in recent years. The social and cultural impact of material colours is not as neglected a topic as it once was. It does though remain neglected in studies of remote area cultural production made for the market by Aboriginal Australians. The qualities of colours lend themselves to group formation. I will argue that these can be considered as ‘meta categories’. Such meta categories are socially recognised colour groupings which play expressive rather than linguistic cultural roles. A meta category does not require a name to exist but I will call such groups of colours ‘palettes’ after the European artist’s painterly equipment. Based on my recent fieldwork this paper highlights palettes used by Western Desert artists. Socially recognised palettes are giving way to individualised palettes in art works. The first point of sale for such work frequently defines its palette. This in turn has epistemological implications for the artists. I will discuss this development, and how it helps define groups of colours as a meta category.


Dr Diana Young, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

Dr. Diana Young is a social anthropologist specialising in visual, material and digital culture both inside and outside museums. She has substantial senior leadership experience as the past Director of the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum. Her research is on material and visual culture. She has worked since 1997 with Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara and other Aboriginal people in central Australia. Her work is on the role of colour, especially in colonial contexts, consumer goods and value creation. Other published research is on re-inventing ethnographic museums for the 21st century, Aboriginal art histories, the senses, design, landscapes and environment, place creation and images.


About Anthropology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Anthropology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of anthropological research and ideas among UQ scholars and invited researchers. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment.


Level 4, Michie Building (09), The University of Queensland, St Lucia campus