Aboriginal Art in February
5th February 2008

The term ˜aboriginal art’ is a tricky one. Separating indigenous Australian art from the religious practices and social customs with which it has been intertwined for at least 60 000 years is almost impossible”people, country, belief systems and their art”all distinctly different facets of Aboriginal life and yet possibly one and the same. Acknowledging this, it could be said that much aboriginal art is connected to a chronicle of the creation of the universe by the Ancestral Beings and the living force that has nurtured successive generations.

Across Australia, from Arnhem Land and the Top End of the Northern Territory through the deserts of Central Australia to the Kimberley in north-western Australia to the coastal regions of the south west and eastern seaboard can be found rock wall painting, sand and earth sculptures, body painting, carving, sculpture and weaving. Styles and techniques vary from region to region; come join Aboriginal art specialist and curator Wally Caruana in a comprehensive four-week lecture series.

1. 100 Years of Aboriginal Art

An introduction to the Indigenous Australian art scene as it is today. While Aboriginal art is the longest continuing tradition of art known to humanity, the last 100 years have seen an escalation of interest among non-Indigenous people and in the making of art; from the beginnings of anthropological research into the art of Aboriginal peoples in the early 1900s to the world-wide phenomenon it is at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The lecture will highlight some of the major developments in the history of Aboriginal art across the country leading to the establishment of community art centres and the market today.

2. Arnhem Land and the Top End

The first of two lectures to analyse regional styles and techniques. Until the advent of the desert painting movement in the early 1970s, Aboriginal art was characteristically known for bark painting and sculpture from Arnhem Land and its surrounds. The lecture will cover the distinct styles of bark painting in Arnhem Land, with examples of how to ˜read’ paintings, as in the work of Yirawala, Dawidi, John Mawurndjul and Wanyubi Marika, and the development of sculpture particularly in the art of the Tiwi people, the rise of Tiwi artists such as Kitty Kantilla, and recent innovations around the region.

3. The Deserts and the Kimberley

The second lecture to analyse the styles of painting, incorporating the history of the rise of painting for the public domain in the central and western deserts and the north-west where traditionally painting on flat portable surfaces was rarely practiced until the early 1970s. The encounter between traditional artists and the public domain at Papunya from 1971 was a precursor for the establishment of art practices across the regions and the rise to prominence of painters such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, George Tjungurrayi, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Rover Thomas.

4. Aboriginal art from the cities

The emergence of artists from the urban and rural areas of the continent is a relatively recent phenomenon. Their histories and those of their ancestors have taken a very different path to those of artists still living in traditional circumstances. Until the 1980s, their work was either regarded as ˜kitsch’ or totally disregarded, despite the historically important drawings of artists such as Tommy McRae and William Barak around 1900. The establishment of Boomalli, the first Indigenous artists’ city-based cooperative, in Sydney in 1987, heralded the move into the mainstream for such artists as Judy Watson, July Dowling and Danie Mellor.

Michael Reid at Elizabeth Bay, 44 Roslyn Gardens, Sydney

Tuesdays the 5th, 12th, 19th & 26th February
6.30pm for a drink, 7pm sharp until 8.15pm

$120 for the series

About the speaker…

Wally Caruana was Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra from 1984 to 2001 during which time he oversaw the development of one of the most important collections of Indigenous Australian art in a public museum. During his time at the National Gallery, Wally curated several major exhibitions including The Aboriginal Memorial, also shown at the Sydney Biennale in 1988; Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition in 1989; Roads Cross: The Paintings of Rover Thomas in 1994: The Painters of the Wagilag Sisters Story 1937-1997; and World Dreaming at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg and the National Gallery, Canberra in 2000.

Caruana is also the author and editor of several publications and exhibition catalogues on indigenous Australian art including Windows on the Dreaming: Aboriginal Paintings in the Australian National Gallery in 1989, several major exhibition catalogues and Aboriginal Art, in the World of Art Series, Thames and Hudson, London and New York, 1993, updated 2003. Caruana is also a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Art History, Australian National University, and the Senior Consultant, Aboriginal Art, to Sotheby’s Australia and business partner with Michael Reid, in Caruana & Reid Fine Art.