Stop 16 of 20

S.J Norman
Bone Library

Creation date: 2010–22 Location: Gallery 12
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S.J Norman, Wiradjuri people, Bone Library 2010/22, Commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra for the 4th National Indigenous Art Triennial: Ceremony, created in consultation with Walgalu/Wolgalu Traditional Custodians, and with the support of David Paul. Courtesy the artist.

Artist S.J Norman on Bone Library

There was never a beginning for this, for me, it's always just been a part of who I am.

Making the kind of work that I make, that's not a decision that I made at any point. It's just something that I always knew that I would be doing with my life.

It's a way of connecting with people and with communities and with place. A way of moving through the world. And a way of, of processing experience.

I hope through that direct exchange between the audiences and the performers, that some of that journey can be shared and that it might help other people on their path.

That's my most sincere hope.

Bone Library is one work that sits in a body of work called Unsettling Suite. Unsettling Suite is a series of works that look at the embodied legacy of colonial trauma, colonial violence or the ongoing legacy of colonial violence as it’s experienced in the body. I first started working on Bone Library in 2007, but it didn’t see its first public iteration until 2012. It involves engraving animal bones with words from Aboriginal Australian languages that have been classified as moribund or extinct, which is the terminology that’s used by the linguistic orthodoxy to describe a language that is no longer active. Each bone is then catalogued and indexed in a way that references colonial taxonomy. It looks at colonial museological collecting practices and the...violence that exists, when we are looking at the way our cultural materials have been stolen and displaced and kept in colonial institutions, particularly our literal bones.

— S.J Norman, 2021