Accompanying the exhibition Daniel Boyd: RAINBOW SERPENT (VERSION)

This glossary isn’t exhaustive or universally applicable. It has been compiled in collaboration with Djon Mundine especially for RAINBOW SERPENT (VERSION) to facilitate a contextual understanding of the exhibition texts.

Aboriginal land rights movement

is aimed at furthering First Nations land rights claims. It started in the 1960s with a labour strike that catalysed an organised movement. This led to the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1976, which was a first step towards enabling First Nations peoples to legally reclaim land stolen by settler colonisers.

Aboriginal Tent Embassy

was initiated in 1972 by a small number of First Nations activists who set up a tent on the lawn of then-Parliament House in Canberra. They protested the dire political and socioeconomic situations of their people. The police arrived to remove the tent and disperse the protesters, who then re-erected it back and forth for over six months. The embassy took many forms before its permanent set-up back in its initial location in 1992.


literally means the “science of humanity.” The discipline was established in the course of European expansion and colonisation. It used the supposedly scientific determination of the physical characteristics of Indigenous people and other groups to justify their oppression and exploitation.

Civil Rights Movement

was an African-American social and political movement in the USA. Between 1954 and 1968, Black people fought for rights they were denied by racist laws. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are some of the movement’s best-known members.


refers to an art-historical period between 1770 and 1840 that shaped European visual arts and architecture and was characterised by clear lines and austere geometrical shapes. Many artists of the period oriented themselves to the design vocabulary of Greek and Roman antiquity, as is evident in columns and temple fronts.

Cold War

refers to the period of conflict between the USA and the Soviet Union that lasted from 1945 to 1991. Rather than openly fight for their own spheres of influence, they used political pressure, an arms race and proxy wars: wars fought in other countries, with the USA and the Soviet Union acting only in the background.


denotes the bureaucratic, economic and cultural relation between Great Britain and other states, most of which are former colonies of the British Empire. The Commonwealth was founded in 1926 in response to the colonies’ first efforts to gain independence – with the intention of fostering their lasting allegiance to the British Crown.


are models and narratives about the origin of the universe and the world. They can establish the social, moral, spiritual and aesthetic views that shape a society. People of the First Nations come from very different cultural communities, each with its own cosmology.

Cultural homogenisation

refers to a process of standardising or assimilating different groups and ways of life. The beliefs and cultural habits of colonial powers are often imposed on colonised communities with the aim of preventing the transmission of local knowledge.


means “unlikeness” – for Édouard Glissant, a collection of dissimilarities that go beyond Eurocentric conceptions of dichotomies.


is a method of research that includes the detailed observation, description and categorisation of (everyday) cultures. Ethnography is closely linked to colonialism and researchers’ Eurocentric views of non-European cultures.


describes assessments of non-European nations and communities based on European values and “norms” that take the construct of Europe as the unquestioned centre of thought and action. The belief that Europe’s historical development and social order are the yardstick for all comparisons with other countries and communities.

First Nations (in Australia)

is a collective term used for people with familial heritage from the first human inhabitants of Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations. They are composed of many different Indigenous communities, each with their distinct languages, cultures and customs.

Gestalt theory

denotes principles about the functioning of human perception. Gestalt theory describes how the human brain sees individual elements – such as a collection of dots – and makes them into a whole. Daniel Boyd uses such mechanisms to point out that individual perception is always involved in creating images.

Great Ocean

is defined as a relational space by many Indigenous communities. It encompasses what has been termed “Pacific Ocean” by colonial powers, and includes its inhabitants, ecosystems, archipelagos and coastlines.

HMS Endeavour voyage

refers to navigator and coloniser James Cook’s first trip to the South Pacific on behalf of the British Crown. His crew included scientists from different fields. They arrived near present-day Sydney in 1770. This expedition marks the beginning of the colonial oppression of First Nations in Australia.


refers to the meaning of the motifs of a picture. Pictorial language and its possible interpretations, which are always ideologically tinged, outlive epochs of art history and are partly continued to this day.


refers to states seeking to extend their power beyond their borders. Countries are made dependent on and exploited by another country – politically, economically and culturally. European colonialism is one of the most brutal excesses of imperial domination. Its structures remain today.


means that something is difficult to see through or understand. Édouard Glissant used the term in relation to communication between people of different cultural backgrounds. His concept of the “right to opacity” resists the intention to understand the “other” and thus to “reduce them to [one’s own] model of transparency”.

Rainbow Serpent

is used as a generalising term for various creation stories from First Nations communities. Traditionally, “God” can appear as a flash of white light or its refraction into the rainbow spectrum colours. Certain creatures display this phenomenon: the skin of reptiles, wings of certain insects and the scales of fish. Each community has a specific serpent species, such as Olive python, Black-headed Python or King Brown Snake.


means restoration. With respect to colonial collections, it refers to the return of cultural goods and human remains to the communities from which they were forcibly stolen, expropriated or sold under unequal power relations.


is the quality of being able to be seen through or easily understood. Édouard Glissant emphasised that European modernity’s claim to be transparent is closely linked to control and power. Instead of wanting to completely see through and understand the “other”, Glissant advocates a global dialogue that allows for difference and opacity.