Australian Aboriginal Art Exhibition

[BEEPS] [CLACKING] [MUSIC] The designs, in this culture, derive from a 40,000 year old tradition. The artists can be male or female. A painting can be done by one artist or several. The painters that paint these images, are the custodians of these designs. They are the owners, and they have the right to paint these designs. These designs have not been spontaneously dreamed up or created. Or copied. Or derived the way western artists work. These designs are sacred designs. They tell ancestral stories that the painters themselves are connected to. Traditionally, they were done on rocks, or trees, or human bodies, or on the ground, in the sand. Later on, they were done on shields and rings. And other useful items and objects. And more recently, these very same designs, that derived from so long ago, have been done on canvas with acrylic paint. This painting comes from a desert community, an art cooperative called Haasts Bluff. Which, and this painting was actually done by a female artist. Named Narputta Nangala. The painting is acrylic paint on canvas. It represents 2 ancestral figures, of the artist’s particular ancestors. Who are traveling through spirit country. Through the country during creation times. These are the hills of their endless journey. As they go and create all of the elements of the world. This is a wonderful assemblage of poles from the Tiwi Culture. That are used in the Pukumani funerary ceremony. This particular grouping was commissioned especially for this exhibition. These are traditional Pukumani poles that are used in mortuary ceremonies. They are generally placed out of doors, near the grave site. They basically tell a very important Tiwi myth-history. Which is the story of the first death in Tiwi culture. These are some of the earliest works in the exhibition. They are wooden shields that come from the Central Desert. Probably they date from the early 20th century. As you can see, they have really beautiful designs on them, of different types. These are sacred designs. They have been handed down. Generation to generation. They have special meanings. Often it’s only the people who are fully initiated to Aboriginal culture who truly understand them. Basically, they do have to do with the same ancestral stories of Creation Time. We are looking at some beautiful boomerangs and shields that date from the early part of the 20th century. They are made of wood. They have painted patterns on them. Which is important to note, these are age-old patterns that were used on historic objects of wood, of stone, of natural materials. Using natural pigments, paints and ochres. This is one of the really vivid desert paintings from the Balgo Hills and we’re standing in the desert portion of the exhibition. It’s a particularly complex work because it deals with an ancestral journey of 2 women and their meandering path. And the various sites that they stayed at in their long journey. The exhibition as a whole has about 4 major, cultural regions. In designing the show, we worked very carefully to try to clarify these 4 regions and have visitors experience all of the paintings of one region together. So that when you start off in the exhibition, you begin with the desert cultures, which are the center of the Australian continent. And you walk through several galleries of desert cultures. Then you move into the western part of the continent. The north-west. And you move into the Kimberley. You move north, up into the Tiwi islands and Arnhem Land. It’s really rather staggering how many different artists are represented in this exhibition. One of the particular challenges with mounting this show, was that the paintings are so vivid and vibrant that some of the rooms, we needed to rehang several times. To get just the right relationships with the paintings. The paintings are very strong styles. And colors, and patterns. We spent a great deal of time designing the room and redesigning and rethinking what paintings should go where. That was one of the things that really surprised me about installing this exhibition. Normally, when we do exhibitions, we have all of the planning laid out right in the beginning. We know exactly where things are going to go. One of the really exciting things about this show was the opportunity to see the paintings work together in a particular area and realize that certain ones would look better if they were moved and adjusted. So we spent a lot of time just thinking about what would look best, and where. Traditionally these designs form part of mens’ ceremony which in Warlpiri is called “Kurdiji” or “Kankarlu”. Perhaps an English translation would be “high school”. It’s part of the young man’s initiation. Part of the way that the older people teach the younger peoples the stories, the jukurrpa, “the dreaming” that forms part of their lore. The song that the men were singing is called ngapa, in Warlpiri “ngapa” means “rain” or “water” and that specifically relates to one of the designs here in the ground painting. [INAUDIBLE] [WOMAN]: When the painting is finished, …then they start to singing… …and after that… [MAN]: Once they have sung the painting, they’ll destroy the painting. Traditionally. [CLACKING] [MUSIC]

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