Friday, 17 August 2012

World of Dreamings: Traditional and Contemporary Art of Aboriginal Australia

The most significant Indigenous art exhibition, of its kind, "World of Dreamings: Traditional and Contemporary Art of Aboriginal Australia” was organised at the State Hermitage Museum on 4 February 2000 by Brian Kennedy who is a director of the National Gallery of Australia (Eniar 2009).Throughout not only the works of six different artists including Nym Bandak, Fiona Foley, Emily Kam Kngwarray, John Mawurndjul, Tracey Moffatt, and Rover Thomas but also two major collaborative works ,”The Aboriginal Memorial”, and a group of ceremonial sculptures, the exhibition presents the existence of the Indigenous art in the different historical stages even in the wave of immigration(National Gallery of Australia 2012). Moreover, the exhibition also “embodies the realities of Aboriginal Australians living in the modern world: a world that has undergone great social, political and cultural upheavals since Europeans colonised the country over two centuries ago” (National Gallery of Australia 2012)
 With different way to express the main idea of exhibition, each artists emphasis their own style as well as their own focusing aspect. This is also the point that makes the exhibition become more interesting as it show various aspects in the Indigenous art. With his works, showing about the Wangkajunka people, Rover Thomas (1926-1998) focuses on illustrating the tragedies that these indigenous peoples had to suffer (Hermitage Museum 2011)

Figure 1: Rover Thomas, 1990, One bullet, natural pigments on canvas, 90 x 180 cm.
Hermitage Museum (2011) also offers information about art-works of Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996) in the exhibition,” being under the influence of Western art still vividly demonstrates national traditions”.

Figure 2: Emily Kame Kngwarreye, 1989, Ntange Dreaming 1989, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 135 x 122 cm.
For Nym Bunduk (1904-1981), the stories and the concept about Murin-pata people are his inspiration. He creates a series of art works, mostly painting on bark, about this topic. According to information from the website National Gallery of Australia (2012),” the circumstances in which the paintings by Bandak and the Wik sculptures were made, involved the active participation of anthropologists and missionaries.”

Figure 3: Nym Bunduk, 1959, Map of Murrinhpatha countryside 1, natural pigments on composition board, 121.8 x 184.2 cm
Using the same method with Nym Bunduk but demonstrating a different idea, John Mawurndjul (1952)  creates different painting on the eucalyptus bark  which “can be definitely found in the art of ritual body painting”( Hermitage Museum 2011).
Figure 4: John Mawurndjul, 1991, Rainbow Serpent at Kurdjarnngal, natural pigments on eucalyptus bark,  243 x 80 cm.
The collision between the traditional Aboriginal culture and the culture of white colonists is another aspect that is shown in the exhibition through the works of Fiona Foley (1964). She combines both the natural material and modern synthetic paints even using metals to display her following idea( Hermitage Museum 2011).
Figure 5: Fiona Foley, 1986, Annihilation of the Blacks wood, synthetic polymer paint, feathers, hair, rope;height 210 cm
The main subject of work of Tracey Moffatt (1960), the producer and photographer, is defining the identity in a multicultural society. All of the work of Moffatt are favoured by many people( National Gallery of Australia 2012)

Figure 6: Tracey Moffatt, 1989, Something more, A series of nine direct positive colour photographs, Each 100.6 x 127 cm
The most magnificent art-work which attracts the attention of many people in the exhibition is the set of painted hollow log coffins which is known with the name “The Aboriginal Memorial”. This art-work is the contribution of 43 different artists from Ramingining.” They reconstruct the image of the Glyde River in the Arnhem Land. 200 hollow log coffins with different painted images on them are placed along the river. This is the bone- burial ceremonies of people in the Arnhem Land. According to Philp(2007, p. 1),” it represents 'a forest of souls, a war cemetery and the funeral rites for all indigenous Australians who have been denied a proper burial”. Through this art work, “The Aboriginal Memorial”, artists want to show and emphasis the existence as well as the survival of Aboriginal culture although they had to suffer 200 years of being oppressive by European in Australia(Russell &Winkworth 2010). In addition, this memorial also predict the changing in Australian society,” from an intolerant and racist past to an egalitarian and just future”( Russell &Winkworth 2010).

Figure 7: Ramingining Artists,1987-1988, The Aboriginal Memorial, Natural pigments on wood, 327.0cm.
The exhibition was received many positive responses from both organisers and public. On one hand, Brian Kennedy, director of the National Gallery of Australia, comment on the exhibition “World of Dreamings: Traditional and Contemporary Art of Aboriginal Australia” as the best exhibition of its kind that has seen in another country, not in Australia (Eniar 2009). On the other hand, Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage, and Aboriginal art, eloquently states in front of the large crowd of many people including journalists, photographers, local artists even members of the public, that this exhibition plays an important role in promoting to people in other countries who know or unknown about the Aboriginal art because it “represents one of the most important sections of art in the 20th century"(Eniar 2009). By opening this exhibition, artists make a valuable chance for everybody to see and to learn about the beauty of the art form that stands within most important contemporary arts. All the art-works, in particular, the art-work “The Aboriginal Memorial” attracts attention of all people at with the not only impressive but also mystery appearance. They stimulate people to find out their meaning as well as their stories which they are hiding. I feel sorry for myself because I lost the chance to see these magnificent art-works in the real life.

Eniar 2009, Exhibition brings Aboriginal art to St Petersburg, Europe, viewed 15 August 2012, <>

Hermitage Museum 2011, World of Dreamings. Traditional and Modern Art of Australia, viewed 15 August 2012,<>

National Gallery of Australia 2012, The Aboriginal Memorial, viewed 15 August 2012,<>

National Gallery of Australia 2012, World of Dreamings: Traditional and modern art of Australia, viewed 15 August 2012,<>

Russell, R & Winkworth , K 2010, A guide to assessing the significance of collections, Case studies of national significance , Australian Government, viewed 15 August 2012

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