October 27, 2007
A family of Arnhem Land painters have brought their work, and their patriarch, to the city. By Martin Flanagan.
Article by Martin Flanagan in The Age about artists from Oenpelli:
The four sat together in a line while I sought to interview them. I asked them if the law is strong where they are from. On that they vigorously agreed. Their notion of what is meant by the words “the law” is larger than ours, since for them the term incorporates culture and religion.
The old man lives on an outstation 220 kilometres south of Oenpelli with 10 to 20 other people. The young men spend a lot of time out there with him. Significantly, they paint in the old man’s style ” straight hatching ” and not their uncle’s “modern” style. Gavin, in particular, is a confident young man. He did year 12 and now works as a ranger. The other grandson, Maath, attended an indigenous conference on bushfires in Canada last year. When I asked Gavin the most important piece for him in the exhibition, he pointed to one of his works ” a depiction of the sugar bag dreaming on bark. A figure with a bag is approaching a tree. The old man is from Ankung Kunred (Sugar Bag Country) and it’s one of his dreaming stories. The exhibition also contains one of the old man’s paintings, on bark, of the same story. The most obvious difference is in confidence. The old man strikes the image like a brand. The young man is not so strong nor so clear but the fact remains he has not only recorded the image but it is here, in Melbourne, on display. Gabriel, a minimalist in speech, said the exhibition is about “sharing culture”.