Tony Albert’s body of work Ashtralia is the latest iteration in his Ashtray series which began in 2008 with the text work Ash on Me. Albert assembled 82 found vintage ceramic and metal ashtrays which are decorated with kitsch images of Aboriginal people and culture over the word ‘ASH’. One of the most notable Ashtray series is Mid Century Modern (2016). In this photographic installation cigarette butts are piled in vintage ashtrays which sit atop kitsch tea towels and fabric which feature faux Aboriginal designs and westernised stereotypes of Aboriginal people and culture.
Albert’s Ash Tray series is deeply poignant. The act of stubbing out cigarettes on the faces of Aboriginal men, women and children symbolises Australia’s racist colonial history and speaks to ongoing racism faced by First Nations people today. His reactivation of Aboriginalia offers audiences a new critical engagement with these objects which could be found in many Australian homes in the twentieth century.