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The Australian National University


Dr John Carty

Research Fellow

T: ( 02 ) 61256767


Research School of Humanities & the Arts
College of Arts and Social Sciences




Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours), University of Melbourne, Department of Anthropology,2000.


PhD, Australian National University, 2012 


Short biography:

John's PhD Research was conducted with the Balgo artists of the Western Desert. He has subsequently worked on several other projects with artists around Central Australia, the Pilbara and the Kimberley. He has worked extensively around the Canning Stock Route, in particular. From 2007-2010 he worked on the Canning Stock Route project that lead to the exhibition Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route, at the National Museum of Australia. He was co-curator of that exhibition. In 2009-10 he worked on a collaborative research project with Martu artist Yunkurra Billy Atkins and Martumili Artists, which lead to the exhibition and publication of Pretty One: the Art of Billy Atkins. He has recently completed a project with the Ngaanyatjarra artists of Central Australia on another book and exhibition, developing an Aboriginal perspective on the art history of that region.  


John is now working on a collaborative and community-focussed research project around the British Museum's collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material culture: Engaging Objects: Indigenous communities, museum collections and the representation of Indigenous histories.

John is an inaugural Research Fellow at the Centre for Art + Enviorment, Nevada Museum of Art.

Research Interests:

John's core research interest is Western Desert acrylic art. Most of his research projects have addressed the anthropology, art history, and/or economics of this contemporary mode of cultural production. His research seeks to develop greater dialogue between the disciplines of anthopology and art history. His PhD research into balgo art addresses two of the main gaps in scholarship around contemporary desert painting; the cultural foundations of Aboriginal 'Abstraction', and the socio-economic grounds of stylistic transmission. 

Through his extensive research around the Canning Stock Route in recent years, John has developed an appreciation for the importance of Aboriginal oral histories and their place within broader Australian narratives. This emphasis on oral history in his recent work, combined with the developing relationship with Martu and Ngaanyatjarra artists, has also lead to a passion for bringing to light the Aboriginal art histories of the desert region.



Current Research Projects:


Engaging Objects: Indigenous communities, museum collections and the representation of Indigenous histories (2011-2014)


Desert Lake. Art, Science and Stories from Paruku (2011-2012)

This is a project that explores the multiple readings and meanings of place in Australia from the persecitve of Aboriginal custodians and artists, and non-Aboriginal artists, writers and scientists. The project will produce a book, and an exhibition, which explores the culturtal and cross-cultural sedimentation of human, historical and ecological narratives around the Desert Lake system of Paruku (Lake Gregory) in the Great Sandy Desert.



New art from the Ngaanyatjarra lands, 2009-2012

John has just completed a book (with Tim Acker) with artists from the Ngaanyatjarra lands in Central Australia. The book is the result of a collaborative research project with Ngaanyatjarra which explores the emergence of their painting practices within the contexts of the broader art history of the region. Using a rich body of oral history recorded throughout the project, this art history is told from an Aboriginal perspective. The book will be published in early 2012, and launched with an exhibition (co-curated with Tim acker) of Ngaanyatjarra art at Lawrence Wilson Gallery during the Perth International Arts Festival.


Ngurra Kuju Walyja/ The Canning Stock Route Project/Yiwarra Kuju

From 2007-2010 John was the anthropologist and historian on the Ngurra Kuju Walyja Canning Stock Route project. From this research, he also co-curated the exhibition Yiwarra Kuju: the Canning Stock Route, held at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, July 2010 – January 2010, and now touring nationally.


Centre for Art +Environment, Nevada Museum of Art

As Research Fellow for the CA+E, John is helping to develop an exhibition of Aboriginal art which examines anthropic effects (eg mining, roads, fences and other human interventions) in the Australian landscape. See also the Desert Lake project above, in which the Centre for Art + Environment is intimately involved. 

Selected Publications:

Books and Monographs

2013 [with Martin, M, Mahood, K. & Morton, S (eds)] Desert Lake. Art, Science and Stories from Paruku, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne (forthcoming 2013)

2012 [with Acker, T.] Ngaanyatjarra: Art of the Lands, University of Western Australian Press, Perth.

2011 [with La Fontaine, M. (eds)] Ngurra Kuju Walyja, One Country, One People: Stories from the Canning Stock Route, Macmillan Art Publishing, Melbourne

2010 [with Gabrielle Sullivan] Pretty One: the Art of Billy Atkins, Martumili Artists.

Edited volumes

2008 [With Yasmine Musharbash] You've got to be Joking: Anthropological perspectives on humour and laughter. Anthropological Forum Special Issue, Volume 18, issue 3, University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

Chapters in books

2012 Rethinking Western Desert Abstraction, in Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art at the Hood Museum of Art, University Press of New England, Hanover and London. [In press]

2012 Purnu, Tjanpi, Canvas: a Ngaanyatjarra Art History, in Ngaanyatjarra: Art of the Lands, University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

2011 West Side Story: Aboriginal art history in the Canning Stock Route Country, in Ngurra Kuju Walyja, One Country, One People: Stories from the Canning Stock Route, Macmillan Art Publishing, Melbourne: 178-195

2011 [with Alison French] Art in Central Australia: Refigured ground, in The Cambridge Companion to Australian Art, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne. pp122-142

2010  Drawing a line in the sand: The Canning Stock Route and contemporary art, in Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route, National Museum of Australia Press, Canberra: 22-31

Journal articles

2008 [With Yasmine Musharbash] You've got to be Joking: Asserting the analytical value of laughter and humour in contemporary anthropology. In Anthropological Forum Special Issue, Volume 18, issue 3, University of Western Australia Press, Perth.


2010 [with La Fontaine, M and Davenport, C] Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route, National Museum of Australia Press, Canberra.


2012 Creating Country: Abstraction, economics and the social life of style in Balgo art (Doctoral Thesis, ANU)

2000  The Art of Grace: an anthropological interpretation of Western abstract painting from Picasso to Pollock (1900-1950). A thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of BA (Hons), Department of Anthropology, University of Melbourne. 

Catalogue essays

2010 Pretty One: Danger and Beauty in the Art of Billy Atkins, in Pretty One: the Art of Billy Atkins, Martumili Artists, Newman.


2010 John is a contributor to the National Gallery of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Collection Highlights

2007 Eubena Nampitjin, in Beyond Sacred: Recent Painting from Australia’s remote Aboriginal communities, Hardie Grant, Sydney.


Anthropology, Art History, History


John has tutored at ANU (Anthropology of Indigenous Societies) and at the University of Melbourne (Myth & Ritual; Gregory Bateson)



Rock Art & Jukurrpa: Canning Stock Route Project [ARC Linkage], Project Manager, 2008.


Paruku: the cultural mapping of Lake Gregory, June 2005.

This collaborative project involved traditional owners of the Lake Gregory heritage area in the Great Sandy Desert (W.A.) working with linguists, geomorphologists, anthropologists, filmmakers and other specialists. The project resulted in an exhibition of the cultural, geographical, historical and familial connections that constitute Paruku (Lake Gregory) Country. The exhibition opened in September ‘05 as part of the Kutjuwarraku Festival at the Warlayirti Culture Centre in Balgo.


Cultural Health Research 

In 2004-5, John worked with the Palyalatju Maparnpa Aboriginal Health Committee (in Balgo) as the Cultural Health Coordinator. His role was to work with local indigenous people on collaborative research projects exploring Indigenous knowledge, practices and values related to community and clinical health issues. Within this broad agenda, some more distinct research and development projects included: Research of local Bush medicines and customary healing practices, leading to the incorporation of indigenous medicines into local clinical practice; Research and support programs for local Maparn (Indigenous Healers); Research into the disjuncture between clinical practice and indigenous values in remote Indigenous communities; Research into Men’s Health issues, leading to the development of a Men’s Health Committee and Men’s Health Program in the region.

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Updated:  19 August 2011/Responsible Officer:  Director /Page Contact:  RSHA Admin