The åœŸåœ°-èº«ä½“ Tu Di – Shen Ti / Our Land, Our Body exhibition from remote Warburton in WA has been seen across Eastern China by a quarter of a million people since last March. Its origins are 65 major artworks from the Warburton Collection “ put together in the community over the last 20 years “ which have now been to seven major cities in China. With over two years in planning, it is the largest exhibition of indigenous art ever to go to China and formed one of the key events for the just-completed Year of Australian Culture in China, Imagine Australia, supported by the Australia International Cultural Council.
85,000 visitors viewed Our Land – Our Body Exhibition at its first stop in the prestigious Shanghai Art Museum. Since then, another 165,000 have seen the show as it moved to the Nanjing Museum, China’s premier contemporary art museum in Beijing, the Today Art Museum, Zhejiang Museum-West Lake Gallery, Xi’An Art Museum, Dongguan Guancheng Art Museum, and finally Wuhan Art Museum, where it closes 3rd January.
The paintings are given an indigenous cultural dimension by being presented in an installation that creates a sense of priorities in the Western Desert. The walls of the exhibition space are prepared with layers of genealogies, multiple pages of narrative text in Chinese and over 6000 photographs taken by indigenous children at the Wanarn remote area school. A 20 channel digital immersive environmental sound installation and a separate projected installation have also been important parts of the exhibition space.
At the exhibitions in Shanghai and Beijing, performance events by Ngaanyatjarra artists over several days illustrated stories that could be seen on canvas on the gallery walls, and these performances were translated into Chinese in situ.
A high quality bilingual catalogue was produced along with a substantial education kit for Chinese schoolchildren. Effective communication with a Chinese audience in fully translated wall texts and captions has been a priority. At the Guan Cheng Art Museum, for instance, they held 13 schools workshops, with over 500 students attending.
Gary Procter of the Warburton Arts Project attempts to explain the tour’s success:
“Why a success? Hard work and a great team effort, mate. Started preparation in early 2009 with the idea if you’re going to do touring show in China, what would a good one look like. Teamwork at home in Warburton and abroad here was very strong and an indispensable member is our Chinese project manager – who happens to be my wife!). Damian Mclean, Community Development Advisor at Warburton Community was a crucial team member, coordinating all sorts of necessary behind the scenes stuff. We all work together.
We translated everything and strove to make the exhibition accessible at every point. We produced education kits that we gave freely to schools and assembled an 80 page teachers’ guide notes document. I gave many floor talks and workshops for guides and museum staff. We had lots of support from Australian Embassy and Consulate staff in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and our major touring partner Rio Tinto was fantastic. They made possible touring to seven venues as opposed to just two.
Wanarn Community schoolchildren took 6127 photos that we laminated and which became part of every space, and they started this project 18 months before we left Australia. Principle Alex Robbins and staff at the School did a great job of helping to realise this important element. And five of these students came to Beijing, where they spent two weeks, seeing their photos and their world in China’s premier contemporary art venue, the Today Art Museum.
Community members Elizabeth Holland, Lalla West and Fred Ward were tireless in the work of clearing material going into the show during the many months of preparation, and then came such a long way from the Western Desert to the opening at the Shanghai Art Museum. Councillors Beverly and Preston Thomas and Senior Wanarn Community Member Bernard Newbury came to the Beijing exhibition and provided the strong and necessary Indigenous presence at those venues.
And now there’s hope that Warburton will be back in 2013/14, touring the show into Western China. Some of it would be Desert to desert! It’s a breathtaking idea for us, but it has to be good for Warburton. Rio Tinto has informally advised they will be strong supporters again and we have a great letter from our Ambassador to get things moving. I am working through issues to do with shipping and venue selection at present and should have some firm idea by February. Though this is a part of the world that rarely if ever gets international touring shows, it has strong cultural minority groups whom I believe would be very interested in seeing what we are doing in Warburton, sharing our cultural practice and ideas, sharing technologies like our large art glass panels and textiles. Also the arts management model we use might be useful, you never know. It would also be a powerful cultural promotion for Australia and great soft diplomacy. I am interested in making friends, working with people when we can, and I have found so many people here we can work with”.
Government interest in this tour might well spring from the fact that December 2012 will see the start of celebrations for the 40th anniversary of Australia and China establishing diplomatic relations. Ironically, Warburton Arts is more popular abroad than at home with the Government! As Gary Proctor explains, It may surprise you to know funding for WAP was declined in 2008 and has never been restored – it’s been hard times. But in the end, how you bring people together is what really counts; and I really believe in a kind of natural goodwill in most of us toward each other which crowds us along. Just have to find ways to make friends. You know, that little kid putting his hands on the painting leaves me feeling very conflicted – as a curator I don’t want that sort of thing, yet the exhibition design aspires to it dearly – it’s such a moving little image for me.
Artist: Nyipi Ward, Elizabeth Holland, Lalla West, Fred Ward,
Gallery: Warburton Arts ,