27 November 2004 to 14 March 2005
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
17 November 2005 to 21 January 2006
National Museum of Australia
11 February to 23 April 2006
Wollongong City Gallery

This exhibition celebrates Aboriginal art of the ‘New Wave’: the daring and visionary use of colour by Indigenous artists throughout Australia. In defiance of preconceptions that the quintessential colours of Aboriginal art are natural ochres, Colour Power unveils its opposite – a farrago of great colourists, working with new media of acrylic and enamel paints, neon, glitter, wools, inks and dyes, metal, paper, canvas, textiles, ceramics and photography.

Colour Power focuses mainly on the revolutionary decades 1984–2004, which issue from the genesis of the Western Desert art movement at Papunya in 1971–72, when senior men invented a new art form, which has had a ‘big bang’ effect on the evolution and acceptance of modern Indigenous art within the mainstream. In experimenting with acrylics the founding Papunya artists opened up a Pandora’s box: once the bright colours had been let out there would be no turning back.

The awakening of Aboriginal women – the hitherto sleeping giants of the Aboriginal art world – as creators and inventors in new media occurred slowly through the 1970s and 80s, initially via the batik medium. Preceding the expansion of the Papunya Tula movement, north to Yuendumu and Lajamanu and west to Balgo Hills in the mid 1980s, Pitjantjatjara women in Ernabella and Fregon to the south and Anmatyerr and Alyawarr women at Utopia Station to the east, celebrated colour in their fluid batiks and in vigorous painted sculptures, before making the transition to canvas in 1988–89, when the art world began to take notice.

Colour Power includes tough and cheeky paintings by city-based artists Gordon Hookey, H J Wedge, Julie Dowling and Ian Abdulla, who confront issues of dispossession, dislocation, ethnocide and the stolen generation and serve to dispel romantic or negative stereotypes of Indigenous people and their histories that abound in popular culture. Hookey says about his use of colour: “I haven’t been trained as a painter so I naively just use every possible colour that I can get and often when I do paint I squeeze all the colours on the palette first and then, you know, then mush them up and just use them, you know, helter skelter, or just any which way.”

Colour Power encompasses work by a diversity of outstanding artists: Uta Uta Tjangala, Emily Kngwarray, Eubena Nampitjin, Ginger Riley, Tommy Watson, Jimmy Pike and Peter Skipper. It represents the art-producing communities of Papunya, Yuendumu, Lajamanu, Balgo Hills, Utopia, Haasts Bluff, Santa Teresa, Ernabella, Daly River, Ngukurr, Tennant Creek, Elliott and Bathurst Island in the Northern Territory as well as Fitzroy Crossing, Bidyadanga, Warburton, Irrunytju, Docker River, Tjuntjutjarra and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and Lockhart River in Queensland. Great individuals such as Barney Ellaga and Samantha Hobson electrify the viewer with their adventurous use of primary colour. Theirs is a fresh vision at the cutting edge of contemporary practice that runs counter to purist demands for a minimalist iconography and palette.