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Ngarin Janu Country by r o v e r t h o m a s /a r t g a l l e r y o f n s w

A U S T R A L I A

I M A G E S O F D R E A M I N G

T h e a b o r i g i n a l a r t o f

A u s t ra l ia c o n ta in s an e x t r a o r d i n a r y v is io n , in c o r p o r a t in g a n o n -d u a l is t ic see in g a n d a p r o f o u n d sense o f place.

Perspective w i t h in A b o r ig in a l c u ltu r e is a h ig h g ro u n d . I n land-based c u l tu re s a perspective is va lu ed not j u s t f o r o u t lo o k , b u t f o r m ee t in gs, c om m u n ity , and a way o f life . To see a s i tu a t io n f r o m a l l sides im p lie s w isd om and compassion.

T h e A b o r ig in a l way o f l ife is dep e n d e n t u p o n sensitiv ity to th e e n v iro n m e n t , to oneself, to o th e rs , and between d i f fe r e n t la nguage g roups. A f in e awareness o f change, to water a v a i la b i l i ty , fo o d s tu f fs , p a th s , w in d d i r e c t io n , te m p e ra tu r e , seasons, to w e ll-b e in g and hea lth , is needed fo r su rv iv a l as w e ll as p r o v id in g a r ic h

V IC T O R IA K ING

F i f ty p e r c e n t o f t h e A b o r i g i n a l p e o p l e o f

A u s t r a l ia c o n s i d e r th em s e lv e s t o b e a r t is ts . c o n n e c t io n to place. T h e a r t is t becomes a scribe o f m ystical a n d p r o fane events, the tw o in te rw o v e n . T h e p a in t in g s on rocks and cave walls becom e maps o f e x p e r ie n c e . F ly in g o ve r th e A u s tra l ia n desert, lo o k in g d ow n o ve r an i n f i n i t y o f o c h re - re d expanses o f co lo u r, one sees A b o r ig i nal p a in t in g s spontaneously com in g to life .

T h e gesture an A b o r ig in a l p a in te r makes w i th his o r h e r o c h re d b ru sh has a l i f e b o r n f r o m D re am in g s , f r o m th e i r ancestors, f r o m t im e im m em o r ia l . f t is made l i te ra l ly on the la n d , th e a r t is t ’s h om e la n d , a s p i r i t u al centre . T h e a r t is t is enacting a r i t u a l c a r r ie d o u t a t one t im e o r a n o th e r am o n g peoples o f a ll c o n t i nents. I t is d i re c t . H e re the d o in g and th e b e in g are one act.

T h e c u r a t o r o f th e S ou th A u s tr a l ia n M u seum , Peter S u tto n , com m en ts : “ T h e r e is a v e ry s t ro n g c o n n e c t io n between th e use o f sym m e t ry in A b o r ig in a l a r t and the p ow e r f u l c om m itm e n t to the balance o f re c ip ro c ity , exchange and e q u a lity in A b o r ig in a l th o u g h t . For e xam p le , in m any parts o f A u s tra l ia you cannot h o ld a ce rem ony w i th ju s t y o u r own g r o u p . You have to ba la nce i t by h a v in g m em be rs o f th e o th e r side p re s e n t . These m o ie tie s a re som e th in g we do n o t have in o u r society. I t w o u ld be l ik e saying you cannot

1 4 Resurgence No. 195 July/August 1999 Riverlife by a m y j o h n s o n / r e b e c c a h o s s a c k g a l l e r y have a C a th o l ic mass w i th o u t h a v in g P ro testants p re sen t .”

A b o r i g in a l a r t appears abstra c t yet is d is t in c t ly n a rra t iv e . I t is based on o b l ig a t io n s to th e la nd , to each o th e r , a n d to th e ancestors. T h e D re a m in g sym bols are u n d e rs to o d b y th e a r t is ts w h o a re c o n n e c te d w i t h th e m a n d these have been passed on to th em by the e lders o f th e c om m u n ity . T h e D re am in g is l i t e ra l ly sung o n to the canvas, b a rk o r g r o u n d , o f te n in th e c om p a n y o f y o u n g in i t ia te pa in te rs o f th a t same D re a m in g . These D re a m in g songs a re th e essence o f A b o r ig in a l c u l tu re . T h e m e a n in g , th e cosm o lo gy and th e a r t are one w hole.

D re am t im e is a te rm used to e x press th e A b o r ig in a l cosm o lo g y o f c re a t io n . I t is an em b o d im e n t o f the s p i r i t u a l fo rces o f the U n iv e rs e . I t l in k s a n a tu r a l and s p i r i tu a l p h i lo s o p h y w i t h th e s e l f a n d th e la n d . A b o r ig in a l p e o p le be l ie ve th a t th e n a tu r a l fe a tu re s o f A u s t ra l ia w e re c re a te d b y th e D re a m t im e be in gs w ho m oved across th e new ly created w o r ld , enactin g and nam in g . W h i le the D re am in g stories are sacred and p a r t ic u la r , th e in d iv id u a l artists are fre e to express th e i r own in te r p r e ta t io n s , h o ld in g the o r ig in a l s to ry as in s p i r a t io n . T h e a r t is ts a n d t h e i r c o m m u n i t y e n su re th a t th e r i t u a l n a tu r e a n d c o n t i n u i t y o f these D re am in g s is h e ld sacred th r o u g h cerem onies and in it ia t io n s .

THE HISTORY OF THE m o d e rn A b o r i g in a l a c ry l ic d o t p a i n t i n g m o v e m e n t began in 1970 in th e g o v e rn m e n t se ttle m en t o f Papunya, 250 k i lo m e tre s west o f A lic e Springs, w he re the P in tu p i tr ib e were fo rc ib ly taken f r o m th e i r la nd . H e re a g ro u p o f s e n io r i n i t ia t e d A b o r ig in a l m en began m a k in g a r t f r o m t h e i r ow n c u l tu r e . T he e ld e rs p a in te d t h e i r D re am in g s on m asonite, th e n la te r o n to canvas, and sold th em in /Mice S p r in g s . F ro m th e ro c k p a in t in g s and ro ck engravings, the ce rem on ia l a d o rn m e n t o f the b o d y w i th ochre designs a n d r i t u a l sand p a in t in g s m ade o f o ch re s , b lo o d , fe a th e rs , tw ig s a n d seeds, an o u t p o u r in g o f th o u s a n d s o f years o f e x p e r ie n c e f lo w e d p ro fu s e ly in t o th is new a c ry l ic m e d iu m and has become an in te rn a t io n a l ly recognized a r t m o ve m ent.

Peter S u tto n says: “ You can know its v is u a l aesthetic im p a c t on you , b u t you need to a p p ro a ch the w o rk s o n m o re th a n th a t n a r r o w f r o n t i f yo u a re g o in g to ge t in t o th em deeply. I t is re a l ly n o t e n ough and in a sense d is re s p e c t fu l a n d e x p lo i t a t iv e — i f yo u w a n t to p u t i t in to ha rsh te rm s — to go on t r e a t in g A b o r ig in a l a r tw o rk s as objects o f i n te r io r d e c o ra t io n w i t h o u t k n o w in g th e i r m ean in g . I f you know n o th in g about th e D re am in g s to ry in v o lv e d , a ll you have done is co lo n ize it, re move i t f r o m its c o n te x t and t u r n i t in to a b i t o f w a llp a p e r.”

Rob Russell stated th a t f i f t y p e r ce n t o f in d ig e n o u s p e o p le in A u s tr a l ia re fe r to themselves as artists. W i th all o f th e in t ro d u c t io n s and i n tru s io n s o f Western m a te r ia lis m in to t h e i r c u l tu r e , th e y have m ade a choice to c o n t in u e to h o n o u r and c e le b ra te th a t w h ic h is sacred to th em th r o u g h p a in t in g , p r in tm a k in g , s c u lp tu re , dance, music and actin g . •

Victoria King is an artist living in the Blue Mountains in Australia.

Resurgence No. 195 July/August 1999 1 5