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Forge, Anthony (?–1991)

by Golson

Anthony Forge died in the afternoon of 7 October. A graduate of Cambridge and a staff member of the London School of Economics, he became Foundation Professor of Anthropology in the Faculties at ANU in 1974.

Here he joined John Mulvaney, Foundation Professor of Prehistory since 1971, in expanding an established Department of Prehistory into a joint Department of Prehistory and Anthropology. All this was the result of a fortunate coincidence of events which gave the University one of its largest and most influential departments.

Anthony's contribution to the exercise was to provide a set of core courses for teaching in social anthropology, but to structure them in a flexible way. Thus he lent his strong support to the establishment of the B.Litt. degree as a means of introducing into postgraduate work in the discipline bright students who had graduated in other fields and of reintroducing into the stream worthwhile students whose progress in social anthropology had not been conventional.

His aim was to provide rigorous training at the preliminary levels as a basis on which to build a graduate programme which would retain the best of the University's own products and attract students of equal calibre from elsewhere. He achieved marked success. He brought to the task energy, ingenuity and a disarming combination of lofty charm and irreverence in the face of regulations.

If it was also done at the expense of his own research and writing, he appreciated the magnified contribution he made through his students, to whom, in his London days as at ANU, he gave wholeheartedly and from whom he won respect, support and affection.

Anthony's distinctive contribution in research and teaching was in the anthropology of art, where he was a pioneer and established an international reputation. At the pedagogic level he saw the old neglected field of arts and crafts as a potentially integrating factor between archaeologists in his department, concerned with the material productions of past societies, and social anthropologists exploring the manifold significances of such productions in contemporary societies, from the utilitarian to the symbolic.

Understandably he was closely involved with the work of public galleries and museums where artifacts are displayed and explained. He was a long-time member of the Asian Textiles Advisory Committee of the Australian National Gallery, a number of whose curators were attracted to his courses at ANU.

For the early' 70s Forge collection of Balinese traditional paintings in the Australian Museum, Sydney, he prepared textual material for its public exhibition which is in fact a succinct analysis of the paintings in their cultural context and a preliminary statement of his own insights resulting from their study. The magnificent Sepik collection in Basel is largely his work (of the late '50s).

In the Sepik and in Bali he chose for his fieldwork two areas where artistic productions, highly regarded by the outside world, were an integral part of an active ceremonial and secular life. His work there is distinguished not only by the comprehensiveness of his anthropological approach but by his unrivalled eye for style, schooled by a lifetime's interest in European art.

At ANU he was influential in the University's sponsorship on separate occasions of an urban and a traditional Aboriginal artist in residence. He was in general much concerned with the need to foster a greater awareness of Aboriginal culture and experience and became very involved in the highly successful interdisciplinary Aboriginal Studies major for which ANU provided a model for other Australian universities.

The range of Anthony's anthropological engagement was always broad. With his first wife he worked on kinship in London, with his second on development issues in Timor. He lent vigorous support in the recent establishment of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, which is attached to his old department and housed there.

He contributed to workshops on agricultural policies in Papua New Guinea. I remember a Food Crops conference in Goroka in 1980, when he rumbustiously dressed down a roomful of agricultural officers for perceived misdirections in crop research and received a standing ovation and the order of the yam (Dioscorea spp.).

This was vintage Forge, the way I and his wide circle of colleagues and friends would wish to remember him, filling the room with his presence and his huge enjoyment.

Ave atque vale, Anthony, connoisseur, raconteur, bon viveur, and valued friend.

Original publication

Citation details

Golson, 'Forge, Anthony (?–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/forge-anthony-1387/text1386, accessed 24 November 2017.

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Life Summary [details]

Death

7 October 1991

Occupation