Marina Abramovic Reportedly Said That Aboriginal People “Look Terrible” And Are “Dinosaurs”

Her new memoir comes out later this year.

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Update 17/8/16: This morning Marina Abramovic has taken to Facebook and said that the passage in question appears in “an early, uncorrected proof” of her book, and reflects her “initial reaction to these people” back in 1979. It’s still unclear if this passage will appear in the final edition or why it was included in advanced copies of the memoir.

World-renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic is set to release her memoir later this year, a book that has been hotly-anticipated due to the great success of the 2012 documentary about her career, The Artist Is Present.

Now with one Instagram post, Abramovic’s memoir is being talked about for vastly different reasons. Earlier today, a New York-based writer and art critic called Rachel Wetzler photographed a page in a since-deleted Instragram post which she claims is from Abramovic’s unreleased memoir. The passage was about Abramovic’s time in the Northern Territory in the late ’70s, which she has spoken about extensively in the past… but without the incredibly loaded and racist language.

The passage reads:

Aborigines are not just the oldest race in Australia; they are the oldest race on the planet. They look like dinosaurs. They are really strange and different, and they should be treated as living treasures. Yet, they are not. 

But at the same time, when you first meet them, you have to put effort into it. For one thing, to Western eyes they look terrible. Their faces are like no other faces on earth; they have big torsos (just one bad result of their encounter with Western civilisation is a high-sugar diet that bloats their bodies) and sticklike legs. 

It’s hard to read this and interpret it as anything but intense other-ing that is offensive and insensitive. Abramovic describes Indigenous people as literal animals to be observed, taking a haughty and patronising tone to describe an entire race of people by judging their physical features. It seems inconceivable that this kind of language could get past editors.

We have contacted the memoir’s publishers, Penguin, for comment, but in the original Instagram comments Wetzler definitely says that this is a page from the book. One of the many reasons why this passage is startlingly is that Marina Abramovic has spoken very warmly about her time in the Northern Territory in the past; saying that the Australian desert “transformed” her.

Last year when she exhibited at Hobart’s MONA, she spoke about her sympathy for the plight of Aboriginal rights in Australia. When interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald, she expressed her appreciation for Aboriginal art and tradition saying: “The influence on my work is huge,” she said.”The whole idea of stillness and immateriality came out of this experience.”

An appreciation for Aboriginal culture does not necessarily extend to a respect of Aboriginal culture or people however, a fact that her critics on Twitter have been quick to point out. Calling indigenous people “dinosaurs” is puzzling and obviously not okay.

There has been no official statement from Penguin as yet. The book is set to be released in October in the United States and November in Australia.