Aboriginal Art in America, Again (Summer 2012)

At the risk of repeating myself, this is an extraordinary year for Aboriginal Australian Art in America.  This week I’m not going to comment again on Ancestral Modern at the Seattle Art Museum (other than to plug it one more time).  But I still have four other shows to report on that are all either on view now across the country, or will be opening soon.  Let’s start in New York City, where London-based gallerist Rebecca Hossack opened an exhibition of works by Barrupu Yunupingu 10 days ago.

Follow the link to the web site: it showcases a lovely and diverse set of examples of Barrupu’s styles of painting the Ancestral Fire that scorched the back of Baru the crocodile and that still burns beneath the sea off the east coast of Arnhem Land.  Documentation from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka explains the motifs she uses and the stories behind them.

In ancestral times, the leaders of Yirritja moiety clans used fire for the first time during a ceremony at Ngalarrwuy in Gumatj country. This came about as fire brought to the Madarrpa clan country by Baru the ancestral crocodile spread north and swept further and swept through the ceremonial ground. From this ceremonial ground the fire swept further to other sites. Various ancestral animals were affected and reacted in different ways. These animals became sacred totems of the Gumatj people and the areas associated with these events became important sites.

The diamond patterning is the miny’tji motif or sacred clan design, of this clan and this place. It summons the theme of this fire. The Gumatj clan design associated with these events, a diamond design, represents fire: the red flames, the white smoke and ash, the black charcoal and the yellow dust. Clans owning connected parts of this sequence of ancestral events share variations of this diamond design.

There are other levels of meaning including an analysis of the constituent parts of Guku, bush honey which resides in the hollow stringybark tree; the skin, blood, fat and bone of a Gumatj person; the mud and weeds of a billabong close to this place which is a home of Baru, the crocodile who itself is a Gumatj power totem metamorphosed through fire.


A few weeks ago I wrote about the opening of Harvey Art Projects’ show of works from Ninuku Arts, which is entering its last week on display at gallery nine5 on Manhattan’s Spring Street.  Thanks to Irina Gusin, I have some fabulous photographs from the opening to share with you today, which need no further commentary.


Julie Harvey sped across the continent after the Ninuku opening to be in Seattle for the debut of Barrku! Treasures from a Distant Land at the Roby King Gallery on Bainbridge Island.  The exhibition opened on June 1, preceded by a screening of films from the Mulka Project at the Bainbridge Island Museum.  (If you were there in the crowd and would like to own copies of the films that were shown, you can order Nhäma! online from the Mulka shop.)

The show closes this weekend, on June 30, so if you’ve already seen Ancestral Modern and need another fix, catch the ferry and pay Roby King Gallery a visit.  There’s a fabulous assortment of bark paintings and mortuary poles on offer from many of the established masters from Yirrkala (including Wukun Wanambi, Djirrirra Wunungmurra, Naminapu Maymuru-White, Yumutjin Wunungmurra, and Djutarra) as well as some of the rising stars.  In the latter category a piece that particularly captured my imagination, thanks to the story told me by Frances Morphy, is a bark by Djurrayun Mirrinyina (left) of the Djarrwark clan.  The Djarrwark, who occupy the Wukili sea country, almost died out in recent years, and the clan designs were preserved only through the agency of the great Gawirrin Gumana.  Gawirrin has now begun to teach these designs to a few young people, including Djurrayun.  To see new life being breathed into these endangered designs was an experience both sobering and thrilling at the same time.


Never one to rest on her laurels, Julie is about to open yet another show in Sun Valley, Idaho over the July 4 holiday weekend, Luminescence: the Color of Bidyadanga Artists.  Painters whose work will be featured in this exhibition, which runs from July 6 until July 31 include Alma Webou, Weaver Jack, Donald Moko, Lyida Baibal, and Jan Billycan, pictured below with one of her recent canvases.  As Julie says, the show will be a cracker!

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2 Responses to Aboriginal Art in America, Again (Summer 2012)

  1. Reblogged this on Dreaming the World and commented:
    Native people everywhere make art generated from the heart and rooted deeply in place. This summer, there are several U.S. shows of contemporary Aboriginal artists from Australia.Come September and a major exhibition opens at Dartmouth College. Here is a review of a new show in NYC.

  2. Beautiful and powerful…

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