Land and Art Down Under

Painting by Dorothy Napangardi

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Tree trunks, Alice Springs
Painting by Johnny Warangkula

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Todd River bed, Gum tree, Alice Springs
Painting by Kathleen Petyarre

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Simpson Desert, Northern Territory

It needs to be remembered that Central and Western Desert art works, and the narratives in which they are embedded, comprise high levels of information about the environment, site-specific ‘deep ecology’, interactions between species, as well as offering templates for human intereactions, and ethical and moral guidance. The art work itself acts as a kind of visual shorthand representing these Dreaming narratives, which encrypt Indigenous social memory, or what could be described as ‘cultural DNA.’ Focussing exclusively on the abstract, formal qualities of such art works is ultimately eurocentric, because such interpretations are premised on the suppression or even erasure of this considerable substratum of cultural meaning. This potentially leads to permanent cultural loss on the part of the Indigneous custodians of these narratives.

Christine Nicolls, from Dancing Up Country

3 Replies to “Land and Art Down Under”

  1. This is a lovely mini photo eassay, Deborah – really clear juxtaposition of percieved natural phenomena and expression informed by these. I am reminded of Andy Goldsworthy and his art being so informed by “being in place” and of his “songlines”.

  2. Yes, Goldsworthy is a good example of an artist from the western tradition who is paying attention to earth in a manner smilar to the aboriginal way.

  3. the juxtaposition of art and photographs is amazing – seeing them at first quick look I thought they were all one – it feels like following a pirate’s treasure map to discover the patterns they share – what a profound affirmation of the land’s residence in the aboriginal art, and what a useful demonstration for those of us who haven’t been to Australia.
    I feel so close to your project – it is uncanny how much our approaches overlap – not only the interest in aboriginal art, but also that I have found myself taking very similar extreme close up pictures of places that matter to me – almost as if at the smallest level of pattern lives the truth that goes beyond conventional “seeing.” It is also the view that a child sees when staring at something for long minutes, as children often do. There’s an intimacy and a lack of “idea” and “expectation” when colors and shapes blur and textures become more precise and universal and an object gives up its customary identity as we construct it – as in those tree trunks, sand, etc. I think of Blake’s “in a grain of sand.” A deep love and connection is expressed.
    This seems really important what you’re doing.

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