In 1971 in the tiny settlement of Papunya, a group of Australian Aboriginal men began transferring their sacred ceremonial designs onto pieces of masonite board. Since this crucial transformative period, Australian Aboriginal art has become an international phenomenon, widely exhibited and acquired by museums, galleries and collectors.
‚‚The Fowler Museum at UCLA will present two exhibitions through August 2”’Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya’ and ‘Innovations in Western Desert Painting, 1972’1999: Selections from The Kelton Foundation”which tell this remarkable story, from its beginnings in the early 1970s to the profound changes reflected in works made by Aboriginal artists in the two decades that followed.
At Papunya, a government-established Aboriginal relief camp in the central Australian desert, Sydney-based school teacher Geoffrey Bardon provided a group of ranking Aboriginal men with the tools and the encouragement to paint. The resulting works became the first paintings ever to systematically transfer the imagery of their culture to modern portable surfaces. The designs from which these paintings are drawn are thousands of years old, but are still in regular use today; they appear in body painting for religious ceremonies and in the temporary ground paintings at ceremonial sites of the Pintupi and Warlpiri Aboriginal groups.
In ‘Icons,’ the Australian Aboriginal worldview is based on Tjukurrpa, or ‘The Dreaming,’ a belief that creator-ancestors who shaped the land formed the world, made all living things, and masterminded the moral code for human conduct. The dreamings relate to specific geographical features, animals, plants and elements which form the collective responsibility of numerous indigenous nations, who ensure their preservation in song, story and imagery.
‘Innovations’ features 14 paintings drawn from the vast collection of the Kelton Foundation. It explores changes in the Western Desert painting movement since its founding, including the shift to canvas, the use of nontraditional colors, the transformations in content with regard to sacred imagery, and the maturation of personal styles by individual artists and the recognition of female artists.
The Fowler Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m., and Thursdays, from noon to 8 p.m. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $9 in Lot 4. Contact: 310-825-4361; visit www.fowler.ucla.edu