About the project

Van Diemen Landers

Van Diemen Landers c. 1802 Artist: Jacques Kuyper Engraver: Louis Portman. Stipple engraving hand coloured. Held Art Gallery of Ballarat


'Graphic Encounters: Colonial Prints and the Inscription of Aboriginality' will mount the first comprehensive investigation of colonial-era prints of Indigenous Australians. It will collate, analyse and investigate the conditions of their production, dissemination and publication, revealing hundreds of unknown and startling images. It will bring to light new understandings about settler constructs of Aboriginality and racial difference and show how settlers literally put themselves in the picture of New Holland/Australia by displacing its original custodians.

From international and national archives, libraries, museums and galleries, public and private collections, Graphic Encounters will bring together far-flung and remarkable prints to investigate this overlooked archive. It will thereby interrogate the visual language of settler ideas of the ‘native’ casting new light on how Aboriginality was construed in the medium that most coincided with colonial expansion, namely print media. It will analyse its configurations of racial difference, its assertions of sovereignty and its depictions of prospects for settlement. It will trace how these shifted over time and place throughout the period of this medium’s predominance in Australia, from the exploratory voyages to the inception of radio.


Prints (engraving, etchings and lithographs etc) were the principal means of reproducing images prior to the 1890’s, when the half-tone block enabled the reproduction of photographs in printed materials. The technology of printing coincided with colonial expansion and was its predominant form of visual expression.

Prints disseminated imagery of Indigenous people determining how they were ‘put in the picture’ of settlement. Graphic Encounters asks how people’s place in this newly encroached territory was inscribed by colonial prints according to racial difference.

Graphic Encounters will collate and trace this little-known, dispersed visual archive of Indigenous Australians though the print networks of empire to present its imagery to all Australians. It will involve descendants, commissioning Aboriginal artists to create artworks in response to this newly collated colonial visual archive of prints. An exhibition and conference, catalogue, monograph, and online database will become available for all to see.

How you can help?

Graphic Encounters is creating the most comprehensive database of prints of Aboriginal Australians from the voyages of 'exploration' through to Federation. Can you help us? We are seeking images from collectors to include in the database. Your story of how you came by these prints will be included in our catalogue.

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