From the Age about the new exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria:
The spectacular flowering of art in the Australian outback has sometimes been called the Aboriginal Renaissance. Some whitefella pride sits in this charming title, designating the rebirth of Aboriginal culture through the modern resources of vibrant painting, famous throughout the world for its copious invention and visual richness.
Western culture, never shy of taking credit for the progress of its dominions, retains a certain hubris over the miracle of the Aboriginal Renaissance. Before colonisation, Aboriginal art was often ephemeral. Its translation to the durable Western medium of acrylic on canvas would ensure its aesthetic promotion: bright colours, never seen before in the desert, would sit harmoniously on an ideal abstract plane to bring new music and monumentality to the designs.
Gallery audiences are flattered that European aesthetic paradigms and formats have been appropriated by the indigenous and are the cause of indigenous redemption. This may be the reason that Aboriginal bark paintings fare badly in the Melbourne art market. They reveal what Aboriginal artists can do without European support or material. No part of their prestige is owing to a whitefella concept of art; and perhaps for that reason, bark paintings have not been so warmly embraced.
I wonder if anyone felt some trepidation before the large exhibition of Aboriginal batik at the National Gallery. Originating in Indonesia rather than Australia, batik is proper to the textile workshop and destined to become clothing or furniture. Batik is associated with repetitive patterns rather than sacred narratives and seems more decorative than a stage of aesthetic epiphany. As a decorative art, batik has the potential to devalue the holy motifs that are installed in that ideal aesthetic shrine that is paint on canvas.
When you see the batiks in the NGV, however, this doubt will be allayed. Certainly, the batiks do not have the rigid geometric format of stretched painting. The NGV has made no effort to conceal the origins and integrity of the works as cloth. The show is presented in the textile gallery and, indeed, some works are items of clothing worn by mannequins.
ACROSS THE DESERT: ABORIGINAL BATIK FROM CENTRAL AUSTRALIA
NGV Australia, Federation Square, until February 1.