In February of 2011, the Cessnock Regional Art Gallery in Hunter Valley debuted an exhibition of Aboriginal women’s art entitled Strong Women Strong Painting Strong Culture. Curated by Deborah Sims and Matt Dickson, the show has been a runaway success, touring to smaller regional galleries around Australia that might not featuring Indigenous art frequently and thus providing an entree for many newcomers to appreciate the work for the first time.
Now the team of Sims and Dickson have come back with a companion exhibition of men’s artwork entitled Ceremony: paintings by senior Aboriginal men with another all-star cast. Quite fittingly to both the all-star quality of the paintings and to the desire to bring new audiences into the gallery (again at Cessnock), the curators arranged to have the show opened by Joel Wenitong who along with his sister Nay (Naomi) and friend DJ Jaytee constitute the personnel of the great Indigenous hiphop act The Last Kinection. (Click that last link to go to their website, and here to get to their Facebook page.)
Deborah and Matt have kindly sent me a bundle of information, photographs, and even a video from the opening to share with you today. It’s a stunning exhibition with a number of beautiful and exciting works, including two enormous string crosses from Waringarri artist Alan Griffiths that would send me to Cessnock for their sake alone (if I weren’t halfway round the world right now). There’s a brilliant canvas by Freddy Ken from Tjala Arts and a pair of lovely paintings by Tiger Palpatja. An austere and traditional composition by Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri of Papunya Tula Artists provides a balance to the exuberant colors of the newer generation of desert painters from the APY lands, while a deep, dark work by Prince of Wales reminds us that not all the great colorists were desert denizens. But don’t take my word for it; check out the slideshow below.
A few notes from the curators’ media release fill in a little more information:
Ceremony focuses on Aboriginal artists’ unbreakable and enduring connections between painting, Country and ceremony. It includes significant works by some of Australia’s most important Indigenous artists of recent times, including Dickie Minyintiri, 2011 winner of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA).
“It’s an honour to have Joel open the exhibition”, said co-curator Matt Dickson. “He’s a role model for Indigenous youth through his issues-driven lyrics, and he’s been lecturing on Indigenous health and education for eight years. Among other things, Joel will speak about the importance of keeping Indigenous culture and communities strong and the crucial role of artists of all kinds in that process”, said Matt
“He’s a strong young Indigenous man speaking up for his culture and his people through his songwriting and performing, his leadership role and his mentoring”, said Matt. “These issues are addressed in a different way by the exhibition, which is full of the work of senior Aboriginal men who are painting to keep their culture strong. They’re teaching young men the stories, the Law and the importance of culture”.
Ceremony brings together paintings of ceremonial rituals associated with creation stories, body markings used in ceremony, and mythic landscapes inhabited by creation beings. Innovative and colourful, yet profound expressions of sacred knowledge, these paintings are alive with the power of creation itself. They are timeless assertions of the power of the Law.
In addition to works by renowned desert artists such as Tiger Palpatja, Hector Tjupuru Burton, and Harry Tjutjuna, there are also works from the Kimberley and Darwin areas, as well as a selection of classic men’s Papunya works.
All works are ethically sourced from Aboriginal-owned and run Art Centres, (with the exception of Darwin artist Prince of Wales, whose works were painted before an art centre was established there).
Commented co-curator Deborah Sims, “Art centres are owned and run by the artists themselves. They’re crucial drivers of cultural renewal. And in remote communities they’re often the only viable economic enterprise. It’s important to acknowledge the great work that they do, despite being seriously underfunded”.
For a final delight, here is the video of Joel Wenitong’s opening remarks on March 31. Weno is a Kabbi Kaabi man from southeast Queensland who has been performing for almost two decades, first with Local Knowledge and more recently with the Last Kinection, whose two albums Nutches and last year’s Next of Kin are standouts in the field of Indigenous hiphop. He travels the country conducting music therapy workshops, mentoring youth, and providing leadership by his example. The Last Kinection is a band that manages to combine searing politics with a humanism that is inspiring–check out their heart-rending riff on the plight of boat people in “Together” from the latter album if you want proof (available here and from the iTunes Store). But there’s plenty of proof of the goodness of Joel’s heart in this little film clip, too, as he gets down (literally) to perform a Dreaming story for and with some of the kids in the audience.
Ceremony will be on view at the Cessnock Regional Art Gallery until May 19, and I hope that, like Strong Women before it, there will be many opportunities to see it in the months beyond. Sims and Dickson are to be congratulated for their devotion and their critical eye on contemporary Indigenous culture. Don’t miss it.