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image icon 'Manalargenna'

Curriculum Corporation seeks to treat Indigenous cultures and beliefs with respect. For many Indigenous communities, hearing the names and/or seeing the image of a deceased person may cause sadness or distress. People using this digital resource should be aware that the material may include references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have passed away.

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Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is a small watercolour painting, measuring 29 cm x 22 cm, that shows an Indigenous Tasmanian holding some burning firesticks in his hand. Painted in Tasmania in about 1833 by Thomas Bock (1790-1855), this finely detailed illustration shows the man's elaborate hairstyle, facial markings and jewellery. The watercolour is inscribed with the words: 'MANALARGENNA, A Chief of the Eastern Coast of VAN DIEMEN'S LAND'.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a detailed and skilful portrait of an individual and named Indigenous person, Manalargenna - such portraits are rare in Australian colonial art
  • is an example of the work of Thomas Bock, one of earliest professional artists to settle and work in Australia - the artist's watercolour miniatures of Indigenous Tasmanian people were regarded both in his own time and today as being the most accurate and individual to be produced; other early Tasmanian colonial artists who recorded Indigenous people were John Glover (1767-1849), Benjamin Duterrau (1767-1851), W B Gould (1803-53), and the sculptor Benjamin Law (c1806-82)
  • is closely associated with significant events in the Indigenous and European colonial history of Tasmania - Bock was commissioned by Protector of Aborigines George Augustus Robinson to record the likeness of selected Indigenous Tasmanian people; Robinson coordinated the rounding up and resettlement of Tasmanian Indigenous people at the end of the ‘Black Wars’ (the final stage of a 30-year conflict between Indigenous people and British colonists)
  • is the by-product of a prevailing colonial attitude that Indigenous people were a 'nearly extinguished race' - thus the need for illustrations that recorded details of their physiognomy and material culture, such as those made by Bock
  • demonstrates the important role that colonial artists (like Bock) played in recording cultural life and customs
  • contains specific details of body marking, jewellery and hairstyle - early colonial records of Indigenous Tasmanians remarked on hair as a distinguishing feature, particularly that of the men, who wore their hair long, in locks that were separated and matted with grease and ochre
  • is capable of reminding contemporary Australian audiences of the need to see history, and, particularly the history of Indigenous Australia, as being measured in terms of individual lives and experiences, as well as from Indigenous perspectives
  • is of great significance to living Indigenous Australians because such images help to reconstruct alternative histories, or introduce new voices into those histories produced by white occupation and colonial administration
  • links to the portrait- and historical retrieval-based works created by contemporary Indigenous artists, such as Leah King-Smith, and Darren Siwes.