One painting resembles a Roy Lichtenstein, another has the emblematic target of Jasper Johns, and a photographic portrait channels Andy Warhol. If that doesn’t sound like Aboriginal art, then an exhibit touted as Australia’s first major survey of indigenous art will both enlighten and astound.
The show, mounted by the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), is titled Culture Warriors and spans across a variety of genres, juxtaposing the established and the avant-garde: traditional iconography next to Western-style realism; bark paintings, textiles and Lorrkon (hollow log coffins) alongside abstracts, bronze sculptures and digital media.
Thirty-eight years after a few Aboriginal men launched the Papunya Tula movement by painting their symbolic dots and circles on a schoolhouse wall, Australia’s indigenous art seems to be experiencing a sea change. We’re influenced by what is around us, said show curator Brenda Croft, herself an artist and a member of the Gurindji and Mudpurra peoples of Australia’s Northern Territory. Our works are evolving. We’re using modern techniques like acrylics and refining our work, even in such traditional art forms as bark painting.
The traditional forms are very much in evidence in the works of five artists of international repute. Dubbed the Big Guns, they include one woman ”Jean Baptiste Apuatimi, who learned her strong geometric designs from her late husband. Two of the others, Philip Gudthaykudthay and John Mawurndjul use refined rarrk (cross hatching) techniques to decorate hollow logs. Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek’s human and animal figures on bark and paper are reminiscent of rock paintings. Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan Jnr makes massive painted milkwood sculptures of creation stories from his Aurukun culture.
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