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An indigenous Australian painting representing the shimmering scales of the barramundi fish is being transferred on to the 700 sq. m rooftop of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. The seven million people who every year ascend the nearby Eiffel Tower will be able to see the work, which is due to be unveiled on 6 June.
The original painting, Dayiwul Lirlmim (barramundi scales), was painted last year by Lena Nyadbi, a Gija woman whose ancestral country extends in a 100km radius from the tiny Western Australian settlement of Warmun.“It’s the first time a museum has commissioned a piece that will not be visible from the museum,” said Stéphane Martin, the president of Musée du Quai Branly, on 29 April, when the project was formally announced at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. “You have to be outside the museum to appreciate it,” he said.
The Paris museum dispatched senior staff to Warmun to work with Nyadbi on selecting a section of Dayiwul Lirlmim to be transferred to the rooftop with the use of digitised stencils.
The Art Newspaper
Two ghost gum trees made famous by the work of Australian Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira have been found burnt.
Officials in the town of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory say they believe the fire was started deliberately.
The trees had been due to be added to a national heritage register.
Indigenous leaders say that the burning of the trees is a desecration – they are regarded as living spirits in indigenous culture.
Tribal elder Baydon Williams said the loss of such a revered site was “heartbreaking”.
“Those two trees symbolised a lot of sacred areas and songlines and marking of boundaries of different skin groups and different clans,” Mr Williams said.
Seattle Art Museum now boasts one of the country’s largest collections of Australian Aboriginal art—more than 100 vibrant, modern paintings from the world’s oldest living culture. In a way, the artwork comes to the city by accident. In 1985, while on a business trip to Australia, Seattle’s Margaret Levi was hit by an Australian Post courier car; she recovered and was awarded a settlement in 1992, which she and her husband Robert Kaplan—both art lovers—dedicated to acquiring a museum-worthy collection of indigenous paintings.
And let it be said: They have great taste. The Aboriginal artwork covers the walls (literally—these pieces are massive) with a wash of colors that seem to be squeezed from the earth: rich oranges, browns, greens, pinks, and yellows, covering everything from canvas to bark. Though the pieces are modern, created from 1970 to 2009, the artists use a centuries-old language of artistic expression to address contemporary issues. With the same pinpoint-perfect swirls and crosshatches used to paint rock walls or bodies during ceremonies, the artwork reflects recent Aboriginal history across the country, from the central and western deserts up into the Northern Territory. And it’s a complicated past.
The pursuit of cultural authenticity in Aboriginal art will make it harder for young artists to enjoy the success of the old masters.
New research into the sustainability of Aboriginal art claims the market for new works is already falling away, even for sought-after artists, because some indigenous works are still being treated as ethnographic objects.
A paper by Melbourne academic Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios says major artists such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Rover Thomas, are promoted as Aboriginal in a way that Pablo Picasso would not be labelled Spanish.
“To secure the future of the Aboriginal art market, it needs to expand and evolve so that a new generation of artists is cultivated and they are accepted as contemporary practitioners,” she writes.
“Marketing the first generation of Aboriginal desert painters as the genuine ethnographic article has the corollary effect of initiating a spiral of redundancy that makes it increasingly difficult to promote subsequent generations of Aboriginal artists.”
I had the great good fortune to receive an advance copy of Howard Morphy’s latest monograph, Becoming Art: exploring cross-cultural categories . This new book is like a river stone, its arguments polished by years of being turned over in the author’s mind, flashing with brilliance; it is an opportunity for extensive and satisfying contemplation and of great utility to students of aesthetics and epistemology, anthropology, art theory and history, and cultural studies… in Becoming Art Morphy looks at ways of integrating Yolngu systems of thought into broader, more world-encompassing (i.e. cross-cultural) perspectives. Readers new to Morphy’s work will be delighted by an erudite but accessible introduction to Morphy’s research. Whereas the earlier works were undoubtedly written for an audience of anthropologists, I believe that Morphy here seeks to reach a broader audience, much as the book itself looks to move the world of the Yolngu into a larger arena.
The nominal focus of the book is Yolngu art, which Morphy has studied for thirty-five years. However, its scope is vast, comprehending in its well-illustrated 200 pages many of the questions raised in the compendious The Anthropology of Art: a reader that Morphy edited and published last year. He asks us to question overly narrow definitions of art, especially what he terms the “exclusionary rules” by which the Western category of “fine art” is determined. In doing so, he charts an understanding of art across cultures that will allow us to better understand the art of the Yolngu.
In order to understand the trajectory of Indigenous Australian art, it is important to consider the kind of thing art is to the producing societies and how that influences the relationships that Indigenous Australians see between artworks and the conclusions that they draw from those relationships. By making Indigenous art discourse part of the data of art history and critically examining the ontological concepts and their relationship to practice, we should become aware of conceptual similarities and differences between different traditions. And in the case of different art traditions that occupy the same temporal space we should be able to better understand how they articulate with one another–in the case of Aboriginal art, how Indigenous artists embrace contemporary Australian art worlds.
Or as he aphoristically sums up a fundamental principle early in the book, “there is a dialectic between common humanity and particular ways of being human. It is the common humanity that creates the possibility of anthropology; it is the diversity of humanity that makes it necessary.”