Sexy and sovereign? Aboriginal models hit the ‘multicultural mainstream’

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    Long argued by post-colonial scholarship, Indigenous sexualities have been variously cast as pathological and abject, or fetishized and exotiziced. In the Australian context, Aboriginal sexualities have never been granted a normalized, agentic visibility in the white Australian imaginary. Since the 1990s, however, there has been an increase of ‘sexy’ Aboriginal ‘stars’ in the Australian media. This newfound visibility invites fresh questions about race, beauty, appropriation and resistance, most particularly in ways that centres Aboriginal narratives: What does it mean to be visible and ‘mainstreamed’ in a media that ‘values diversity’, whilst denying sovereignty for Indigenous people? This question is significant in the Australian context, but also has relevance for rethinking race, sexuality and media representations in colonial contexts internationally. The paper explores this newfound exposure through the voices of two Australian Aboriginal women, Samantha Harris and Magnolia Maymaru. These women have come to national and international fame as celebrated models in a fashion industry priding itself on becoming more inclusive and multicultural. It focuses on their responses to journalists over the course of their careers, as well as how the stories construct beauty and Aboriginality. I draw on Indigenous feminist scholars, particularly the work of Irene Watson, who foreground the subject of sovereignty and remind us that discourses of multiculturalism have a charged meaning for Indigenous people. I also draw on the insights of Elizabeth Povinelli who considers how sexuality intersects with discourses of empire, and how Indigenous people employ ‘creative engagements’ with liberal multiculturalism. Positioning sovereignty and multiculturalism side by side, I reflect on how Samantha and Magnolia enact a sovereign sexuality, and what this might look like. Rather than fix colonial alterity or reproduce multicultural ‘inclusions’, their narratives skirt, sidestep and ‘dance’ with the discourses constructing their lives, attending to race while transcending its colonial limits.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)198-222
    Number of pages25
    JournalCultural Studies
    Issue number2
    Early online date12 Jun 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2019


    • Indigenous
    • media
    • Multiculturalism
    • post-colonial theory
    • sexuality
    • sovereignty


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