What: The exhibition ‘Indigenous Australia: Masterworks from the National Gallery of Australia’, mounted at the National Gallery of Modern, celebrates Australia’s living culturefeatures significant works produced by Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from the late 1800s through to today. The 102 artworks take on many forms including paintings on canvas and bark, weaving and sculpture, new media, prints and photography.
Historical perspective: The indigenous artists represented in this exhibit come from specific regional blocks: Arnhem Land and its environs in the northern territory, and the western deserts and the Kimberley in Western Australia. In addition, many artists hail from the eastern, western and southern seaboards where their ancestors experienced the initial force of colonisation at the cost of many lives, and of many cultural traits.
The story about the ancestral realm: The land dominated by the native tribes are packed with spirituality and are laden with symbolic meaning and totemic associations that are the subjects of an art which is fundamentally religious in character. Paintings about country are not mundane landscapes in the conventional sense of pictures and natural scenery, but are made to refer to the ancestral realm or the Dreamtime. So, basically, the Aboriginal Australians use motifs from the dream state which they usually believe are their ancestors. Thus they become a leitmotif in their depictions taking sometimes the form of an animal or a human being. But, their form the core of the indigenous artistic compositions.
Highlights: While the exhibit is diverse in nature. There are some things you shouldn’t miss.
1. A bark painting titled Ngal-Kunburriyaymi by Kuninjku artist Peter Marralwanga depicts the daughter of the original ancestoral creater being, Yingarna, and the sister of Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent.
2. Clifford Possum’s Warlugulong in which the artist set out to map his ancestral lands and nine distinct Dreamings in a way that integrated the sacred diagrams of ground paintings with the topographical conventions of European maps.
3. Alec Mingelmanganu’s enigmatic ‘Wandjina’ dominates the canvas in size and grandeur as they exert their authority, looking down through time. These ancient ancestors, responsible for bringing the monsoon rains, have been dramatically brought to life, no longer confined within the rock shelters of the Kimberley region.