Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters is a groundbreaking exhibition of art by indigenous women of Australia. The first-ever of its kind in the U.S., the exhibition presents over seventy works of art, from intensely colorful canvases to intricate bark paintings, all demonstrating women’s bold and often experimental representations of their heritage.

Inherently linked to the spiritual realm, Australian Aboriginal art is rooted in ancient stories”or Dreamings”as well as each artist’s deep connection to the land. Simply interpreted, the Dreaming is the period of creation when the land and life upon it were created by spiritual ancestors who also gave birth to humans, and established the moral code known as the Law. For thousands of years, Dreamings were ceremoniously communicated through painting, dance, story-telling, and other artistic expressions thereby creating a strong, living bond between Aboriginal people and their homeland. Rendered mostly on ephemeral material, these sacred reiterations which connected participants to the Creation Era were intended for private, initiated eyes. Over the last thirty years, however, one of the most exciting developments in the international art arena materialized. In 1971 Papunya elders in the Northern Territory of Australia were encouraged to use boards and acrylics to represent Dreaming designs. Using these modern art materials, artists began creating art for the public. By using various abstracted techniques and a canon of symbols, artists could commit stories to permanent media, while at the same time obscure sacred designs from the uninitiated public. This new method of communicating Dreamings spread throughout central Australia and now embraces a network of art-producing communities across the country’s vast expanse.

Initially, painting with acrylics was an exclusively male occupation, with women mostly producing utilitarian objects and filling in backgrounds on paintings by male relatives. Since the 1980s, however, women painters have started creating their own work and during the last decade have received greater attention than their male counterparts. Often supporting their families and communities through art sales, they have become major figures in Australia’s contemporary art scene, as well as on the global art market. In 2005, the winners in all five categories of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA)”the most prestigious Aboriginal art award”were women. This marked the first time in the twenty-two-year history of the awards that the entire field of winners comprised one gender. At the 1997 Venice Biennale, the three artists chosen to represent Australia were all Aboriginal women.

Through their art, Aboriginal women express their relationships to their country, their understandings of the world and how it came into being, and their responsibilities for maintaining and reproducing their culture. There exist many varied styles that reflect cultural diversity, historical processes, and personal visions.

What distinguishes Australian Aboriginal art from other contemporary work is its basis in ancient tradition and the artists’ relationship to the land. In their depiction of Dreamings, artists are stating their position in the world using a prescribed repertoire of imagery. Within these well-defined regulations, women artists have proved to be extremely resourceful and imaginative in creating new ways to represent ancient stories.

This exhibition is organized by NMWA and will travel to the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College where it will be on view October 7-December 10, 2006.

The exhibition is made possible through the valuable assistance of the Embassy of Australia, Washington, D.C., and the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Generous support is provided by the Macquarie Group; Macquarie Foundation; Chevron; Qantas; Alcoa Foundation; The Boeing Company; Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP; Marriott at Metro Center; Michael and Deborah Thawley; Ann Lewis, AM; Raymond Garcia and Fruzsina Harsanyi, and one anonymous donor.

Special recognition goes to the NMWA Business and Professional Women’s Council for providing essential funding for this exhibition.