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marina abramovic
Courtesy of Marco Anelli

Marina Abramovic issues apology over Aborigine comments

‘My words were offensive and I want to wholeheartedly apologise to those who I have hurt as a result’

Last week, Marina Abramović sparked controversy after a passage from her upcoming memoir Walk Through Walls was leaked online. The excerpt, which had been shared on Twitter, was focused on the Serbian performance artist’s first encounter with Aboriginal people in 1979. 

“They look like dinosaurs,” Abramovic wrote. “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... and sticklike legs.”

The excerpt – which has since been removed from the book by its publisher – promptly provoked an outcry on social media. Many users accused the artist of racism, and the hashtag ‘#TheRacistIsPresent’ (a reference to her 2012 documentary The Artist Is Present) began trending. “This better be just really bad performance art,” wrote one Twitter user.

Abramovic, who issued a brief statement on the drama at the time, has now stepped forward with a “wholehearted” apology for the misunderstanding. Heaping praise on indigenous Australians, she writes that her chosen language was “terrible”, and that her heart had been “aching continually” since the story came to light. Read her statement in full below:

“I have tried to live my life with courage and I have very few regrets. However the events of the last week have been humbling. My choice to include in my unfinished memoir manuscript the passage from my 1979 diary that used such terrible language to describe my first impressions of Aboriginal peers in the Western Australian desert is one of these regrets. My heart has been aching continually since this came to light. My words were offensive and I want to wholeheartedly apologise to those who I have hurt as a result. The most painful part of it all is that I have hurt Aboriginal individuals who trusted me, and that I perpetuated hurtful stereotypes of a people to whom I owe so much and respect so utterly. I know that the words I used felt like a betrayal and I am truly sorry. Devaluing the integrity, the beauty and the struggle of indigenous Australians, with whom Ulay and I lived from 1980 to 1981, must have seemed an assault on people who are particularly beloved and inspiring to me.”