Abstracts for Issue 1, 2008
Rock-art of the Western Desert and Pilbara: Pigment dates provide new perspectives on the role of art in the Australian arid zone
Jo McDonald (Australian National University) and Peter Veth (Australian National University)
Systematic analysis of engraved and painted art from the Western Desert and Pilbara has allowed us to develop a spatial model for discernable style provinces. Clear chains of stylistic connection can be demonstrated from the Pilbara coast to the desert interior with distinct and stylistically unique rock-art bodies. Graphic systems appear to link people over short, as well as vast, distances, and some of these style networks appear to have operated for very long periods of time. What are the social dynamics that could produce unique style provinces, as well as shared graphic vocabularies, over 1000 kilometres? Here we consider language boundaries within and between style provinces, and report on the first dates for pigment rock-art from the Australian arid zone and reflect on how these dates from the recent past help address questions of stylistic variability through space and time.
Painting and repainting in the west Kimberley
Sue O’Connor, Anthony Barham (Australian National University) and Donny Woolagoodja (Mowanjum Community, Derby)
We take a fresh look at the practice of repainting, or retouching, rockart, with particular reference to the Kimberley region of Western Australia. We discuss the practice of repainting in the context of the debate arising from the 1987 Ngarinyin Cultural Continuity Project, which involved the repainting of rock-shelters in the Gibb River region of the western Kimberley. The ‘repainting debate’ is reviewed here in the context of contemporary art production in west Kimberley Indigenous communities, such as Mowanjum. At Mowanjum the past two decades have witnessed an artistic explosion in the form of paintings on canvas and board that incorporate Wandjina and other images inspired by those traditionally depicted on panels in rock-shelters. Wandjina also represents the key motif around which community desires to return to Country are articulated, around which Country is curated and maintained, and through which the younger generations now engage with their traditional lands and reach out to wider international communities. We suggest that painting in the new media represents a continuation or transference of traditional practice. Stories about the travels, battles and engagements of Wandjina and other Dreaming events are now retold and experienced in the communities with reference to the paintings, an activity that is central to maintaining and reinvigorating connection between identity and place. The transposition of painting activity from sites within Country to the new ‘out-of-Country’ settlements represents a social counterbalance to the social dislocation that arose from separation from traditional places and forced geographic moves out-of-Country to government and mission settlements in the twentieth century.
Port Keats painting: Revolution and continuity
Graeme K Ward (AIATSIS) and Mark Crocombe (Thamarrurr Regional Council)
The role of the poet and collector of ‘mythologies’, Roland Robinson, in prompting the production of commercial bark-painting at Port Keats (Wadeye), appears to have been accepted uncritically - though not usually acknowledged - by collectors and curators. Here we attempt to trace the history of painting in the Daly–Fitzmaurice region to contextualise Robinson’s contribution, and to evaluate it from both the perspective of available literature and of accounts of contemporary painters and Traditional Owners in the Port Keats area. It is possible that the intervention that Robinson might have considered revolutionary was more likely a continuation of previously well established cultural practice, the commercial development of which was both an Indigenous ‘adjustment’ to changing socio-cultural circumstances, and a quiet statement of maintenance of identity by strong individuals adapting and attempting to continue their cultural traditions.
Negotiating form in Kuninjku bark-paintings
Luke Taylor (AIATSIS)
Here I examine social processes involved in the manipulation of painted forms of bark-paintings among Kuninjku artists living near Maningrida in Arnhem Land. Young artists are taught to paint through apprenticeships that involve exchange of skills in producing form within extended family groups. Through apprenticeship processes we can also see how personal innovations are shared among family and become more regionally located. Lately there have been moves by senior artists to establish separate out-stations and to train their wives and daughters to paint. At a stylistic level the art now creates a greater sense of family autonomy and yet the subjects link the artists back in to much broader social networks.
Making art and making culture in far western New South Wales
This contribution is based on my ethnographic fieldwork. It concerns the intertwining aspects of the two concepts of art and culture and shows how Aboriginal people in Wilcannia in far western New South Wales draw on these concepts to assert and create a distinctive cultural identity for themselves. Focusing largely on the work of one particular artist, I demonstrate the ways in which culture (as this is considered) is affectively experienced and articulated as something that one ‘comes into contact with’ through the practice of art-making. I discuss the social and cultural role that art-making, and art talk play in considering, mediating and resolving issues to do with cultural subjectivity, authority and identity. I propose that in thinking about the content of the art and in making the art, past and present matters of interest, of difficulty and of pleasure are remembered, considered, resolved and mediated. Culture (as this is considered by Wilcannia Aboriginal people) is also made anew; it comes about through the practice of artmaking and in displaying and talking about the art work. Culture as an objectified, tangible entity is moreover writ large and made visible through art in ways that are valued by artists and other community members. The intersections between Aboriginal peoples, anthropologists, museum collections and published literature, and the network of relations between, are also shown to have interesting synergies that play themselves out in the production of art and culture.
Black on White: Or varying shades of grey? Indigenous Australian photo-media artists and the ‘making of‘ Aboriginality
Marianne Riphagen (Radboud University, The Netherlands)
In 2005 the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne presented the Indigenous photo-media exhibition Black on White. Promising to explore Indigenous perspectives on non-Aboriginality, its catalogue set forth two questions: how do Aboriginal artists see the people and culture that surrounds them? Do they see non-Aboriginal Australians as other? However, art works produced for this exhibition rejected curatorial constructions of Black and White, instead presenting viewers with more complex and ambivalent notions of Aboriginality and non-Aboriginality. This paper revisits the Black on White exhibition as an intercultural event and argues that Indigenous art practitioners, because of their participation in a process to signify what it means to be Aboriginal, have developed new forms of Aboriginality.
Culture production Rembarrnga way: Innovation and tradition in Lena Yarinkura’s and Bob Burruwal’s metal sculptures
Christiane Keller (University of Westerna Australia)
Contemporary Indigenous artists are challenged to produce art for sale and at the same time to protect their cultural heritage. Here I investigate how Rembarrnga sculptors extend already established sculptural practices and the role innovation plays within these developments, and I analyse how Rembarrnga artists imprint their cultural and social values on sculptures made in an essentially Western medium, that of metal-casting.
The metal sculptures made by Lena Yarinkura and her husband Bob Burruwal, two prolific Rembarrnga artists from north-central Arnhem Land, can be seen as an extension of their earlier sculptural work. In the development of metal sculptures, the artists shifted their artistic practice in two ways: they transformed sculptural forms from an earlier ceremonial context and from earlier functional fibre objects. Using Fred Myers’s concept of culture production, I investigate Rembarrnga ways of culture-making.