Tangled up in black - a study of the activist strategies of the Black Power movement through the life of Gary Foley

2017-02-09T03:21:39Z (GMT) by Howell, Edwina Maurey
Tangled Up in Black is a work of anthropology that both critiques and celebrates the discipline as much as it does the subject of the thesis, ‘A study of the activist strategies of the Black Power movement (in Australia) through the life of Gary Foley’. It is most influenced by the life work of the subject, Gary Foley as well as that of anthropologist Michael Taussig and philosopher and literary critic, Walter Benjamin, in particular his ‘Thesis on the Philosophy of History’. I have engaged the crafts of fictocriticism, storytelling and the dialectical image to actively approach the underlying paradox of the thesis which is the representation of ‘the other’ in light of the Black Power movement’s challenge to the discipline of anthropology in Australia in the early 1970s. I tell both the personal history of the development of Gary Foley from his birth as a Gumbaynggirr child in Grafton (NSW) in 1950 to the context of his transformation into a radical Aboriginal Black Power activist and member of the Black Caucus in Redfern, Sydney in the late 1960s, whilst concurrently providing a challenge to the mainstream narrative of the history of the Land Rights era in Australian politics. The thesis is propelled by the creative currents of Taussig’s What Color is the sacred? and Defacement. From the former I borrow the dialectical image of Bengali tribesmen who with and in their bodies and through movement, in their collective labour as indigo workers, shout out in obscene song to transform the nature of colour. I use this image as if it is a layering of reflections to both hold the memory of colonial violence within the text and to illuminate the energies of the subject’s activist practice as well as the experience and history of Black Power activism. I also engage the key concepts of Defacement (the public secret, obscenity, transgression and defacement) providing a critique of the strategies of the Black Power movement that goes beyond identification into other act of defacement (as mimesis followed by sudden theatrical anti-mimetic ploy). The thesis not only considers Black Power activism at its height (in the 1960s and early 1970s) but carries the story of the movement through to the end of the decade of the 80s through Foley’s involvement in the film and television industry, in the area of Aboriginal community controlled health services and in the organisation of nationwide Aboriginal Land Rights protests, with a focus on the Black Power movement’s understanding of Benjamin’s belief ‘that it is in the image realm’ that it is most important to act. In both humour and sincerity this work aims to demonstrate that ‘we can be other than we are’.