Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
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Girramay/Yidinji/Kuku-Yalanji peoples

Townsville, Queensland, Australia born 1981

ASH on me 2008 Place made: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, installation, vintage ashtrays on vinyl lettering

Dimensions: Installation 150.0 h x 150.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.94.1-82
  • Tony Albert’s art challenges historical and contemporary ideas of Aboriginal identity, representation, cultural and political issues, and how the Indigenous perspective is reflected in today’s society. He transforms objects he has found into intellectually challenging works which, when strategically placed, retell the often hidden or forgotten stories of Aboriginal histories through sculpture, photography and installation.

    ASH on me2008 is a juxtaposition of old found ‘opportunity shop’ ceramic and metal ashtrays, which are decrorated with kitsch images of Aboriginal people and culture. Each ashtray brings a different perspective of how Aboriginal people are depicted, some as caricatures, some realistically. Albert’s clever use of these objects crammed on to the word ‘ASH’ emphasises their original intent: for cigarette butts to be stubbed out on the faces of the Aboriginal men, women and children. These seemingly innocuous ashtrays transform into menacing symbols of racism. Although such objects belong to a different era, their contemporary relevance is found in the mass production and use (or mis-use) of images of Aboriginal people and cultural objects as icons of Australia today.

    Ash on me is about having a cigarette put out on you. It’s politically charged and everything … There was something so sinister about an ashtray that I felt needed a work of its own. I put all my ashtrays aside and thought, ‘I’ll just keep collecting ashtrays’. I was saving them up for something special … [1]

    Tina Baum

    [1] Tony Albert, interviewed by Odette Kelada, Art Monthly, no 218, April 2009, pp 15–18.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

  • Description

    This is an installation by Girramay artist Tony Albert (b.1981) using black text that reads, ‘ASH on me’ and found objects: ceramic and metal ashtrays. These objects present Aboriginal people in different ways, some as caricatures. The work of art is shown as an enlargeable image. Text onscreen gives information about Albert’s practice and provides a strong visual analysis articulating the historical use and collection of these objects in the 1950s and 1960s as a way for white Australians to connect with Indigenous people. The installation measures 150.0 cm high x 150.0 cm wide and was constructed from vintage ashtrays on vinyl lettering.

    Educational value

    • This is an excellent resource for the Responding strand in the 9-10 year bands in the visual arts curriculum, especially for those content descriptions that refer to considering the broader context of works of art, such as their social, cultural and historical context and role of the artist and of the audience/s.
    • The work is of considerable significance for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures cross-curriculum priority. It expresses that Aboriginal Peoples' ways of life are uniquely expressed through their ways of being, knowing, thinking and doing. Further, the resource exemplifies: Australia’s acknowledgement of the significant contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people locally and globally. Tony Albert is considered a significant contemporary Urban Aboriginal artist.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra