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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

The Robert Layton Lecture - 'We think through our marwat (paintbrush)' – reflections on the Yolngu location of thought and knowledge - Professor Howard Morphy and Frances Morphy (Australian National University)

8th October 2014, 17:00 to 18:30, Kingsley Barrett Room, Calman Learning Centre, Professor Howard Morphy and Frances Morphy

The annual Robert Layton Lecture celebrates what anthropology can bring to understanding human life past, present and future by integrating or juxtaposing methods, questions or areas of enquiry across its sub-fields.

The lecture is named in honour of Prof. Robert Layton FBA. Prof Layton has exemplified the integration of multiple anthropological perspectives in his wide-ranging research interests, and played a vital role in shaping the Department of Anthropology at Durham to reflect that interdisciplinary ethos.

This years' lecture, hosted by the Department of Anthropology, will be delivered by Professor Howard Morphy and Frances Morphy from the Australian National University.

Yolngu when talking about sacred paintings routinely give priority to thought. They paint with a marwat, a brush of human hair and explicitly draw a connection between the brush, the head and the creative process. It is tempting to see synergies with the western concept of mind as the location of thought. Yet there is also a sense in which that process of creation is equally or perhaps fundamentally placed in the land – not everywhere but in particular locations. In this paper we first consider Yolngu body-part metaphors that illuminate and locate the process of thought, and then move away from the human body towards a consideration of the ancestral dimension and the embodiment of the ancestral domain in the landscape. We will explore the ways in which thought and knowledge are located in focal points in the land which have an association with the frontal region of the head (buku) and the enduring footprint (djalkiri) of the ancestor. We will conclude that to Yolngu thought and knowledge are grounded in the ancestral determination of the world yet creates a space for human creativity.

5.00pm - Lecture start, followed by drinks in the Derman Christopherson Room (Calman Learning Centre)

Booking for this event is essential.

Contact for more information about this event.