Star artist calls Indigenous Australians ‘dinosaurs’

One of the world's most prominent artists has been called racist for a description of Indigenous Australians in her upcoming memoir.

Advance copies of performance artist Marina Abramovic's biography contain a passage describing Australia's first people as "dinosaurs".

Abramovic said the comments were from an "early, uncorrected proof".

But response to the excerpt on social media was unsympathetic, with many branding her a racist.

The memoir, entitled Walk Through Walls, features a passage that describes Abramovic's first contact with Indigenous Australians in the 1970s.

"Nothing prepared Westerners - even Westerners used to extreme experiences - for meeting Australia's first inhabitants," 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.

"To Western eyes they look terrible. Their face 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."

'Understanding and appreciation'

As the passage was widely shared on social media, Abramovic defended herself in a statement.

"I have the greatest respect for Aborigine people, to whom I owe everything," she said.

"The time I spent with members of the Pijantjatjara and Pintupi tribes in Australia was a transformative experience for me, and one that has deeply and indelibly informed my entire life and art.

"The description contained in an early, uncorrected proof of my forthcoming book is taken from my diaries and reflects my initial reaction to these people when I encountered them for the very first time way back in 1979.

"It does not represent the understanding and appreciation of Aborigines that I subsequently acquired through immersion in their world and carry in my heart today."

Twitter users criticising Abramovic posted under the hastag #theracistispresent, a reference to the artist's famous performance, The Artist is Present, in 2010.