Despite the wonderful colours in a lot of the pieces displayed in this exhibition of work by Australian Indigenous women artists, the title it has been given doesn’t do it justice. This is despite the vibrancy of paintings like these three which together with another three take up a whole wall of the gallery. There are many as colourful, both big and small.

The program note provides a better description of what is on offer. It describes these women artists as innovators and transformers of tradition and precedent and as eloquent contemporary artists. The exhibition features both new acquisitions and large bodies of work from the NGV Collection that have never been shown together before. One would want them to be shown as often as possible – separately or together.

However it’s described, it’s a great exhibition and I urge you to go and see it at NGV Australia, Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, where it is on until 18 April 2017. I hope the photos in this post encourage you to do so. I had great difficulty limiting myself to this number of photos. There are some great polemical, political works that I couldn’t capture adequately on my iphone, which were both visually arresting and thought provoking.

I was particularly taken by these paintings by Samantha Hobson, a Queensland artist (Kuuku-y’au, born 1981). The first one, called Bust ‘im up, painted in 2000, is about domestic violence. The second, painted in 2008, is called Calm night…down at the beach. Wonderful, vibrant colour.

Calm night...down at the beach

These by older artists all have such a modern sensibility – timeless really. They brought to my mind artists like John Olsen and Fred Williams. The first one pictured below is by Katjarra Butler (Ngaanyatjarra, born in 19460). It’s called Ngamurra and is of a place in Western Australia, painted in 2010. The second is by Wingu Tingima (Pitjantjatjara, 1917-2010). Painted in 2004 it’s called Pukara which is a waterhole in Western Australia. The third is by Muni Rita Simpson (Manyijilyjarra, 1941-2008). Also painted in 2008 in Western Australia; Jila travelling to Wirnpa.

Another wonderful painting by Kuruwarriyingathi Bijarbb Paula Paul (Kaiadilt, born 1937) painted in 2009 is My country, which is the first painting below. This is the artist’s Bentinck Island homeland. It’s wonderful. The second is by Muni Rita Simpson (Manyjilyjarra, 1941-2008), painted in 2008, Yimiri which is part of the Percival Lakes. Beautiful.

Another amazing painting that takes up a whole wall is this by the Martu Artists, 2009; thirteen of them in all. This picture does not do it justice. I have included a close up detail from the right hand side of it, below. The artists describe this painting as a map of the waterholes around which they grew up; walking between them.They say We are still singing and dancing for this country.

There are also some very familiar paintings on display. Some by Emily Kam Kngwarray (Anmatyerr, 1910-96). This is her Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam dreaming), painted in 1995, monumental in scale, absorbing to view. The one below that is Anwerlarr (Pencil yam) painted in 1989 and below that is Ankerr (Emu) painted in 1989, look closely you see the tracks of the bird.

But there is much more than paintings on show. There is traditional craft work. Bags, mats and other woven objects. The eel trap which is the third picture below was made by a woman in Healesville in 1999. Joyce Moate (Taungurong, 1945-2004).

I was really taken with the subversive take on this traditional craft work by Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Waradgerie, born 1962) who hails from Swan Hill, near where I come from. There were a lot of these small metal bags; she has done a whole series of these (over a dozen) which has been exhibited as a whole. They are all intricate and subversive in the contrast between their delicate appearance and what she uses to produce them which is recycled wire, steel mesh and other hard material.

A modern take on traditional weaving is also evident in a new aquisition, Jenny Crompton’s (Wathaurong, born 1968) Sea Coutry Spirits. Made from copper wire, tree grass, driftwood, kangaroo bones, feathers, grass roots, seaweed. Made in 2015016 in Bellbrae Victoria, they hang from the ceiling in a black cave. Amazing.

And there is more – traditional woven figures, bark painting, ornaments. The woven figure below is Yawkyawk, by Anniebell Marngamarrnga (Kuninjku, born 1968), made in 2007 in the NT. Made of pandanus and bamboo. a yawkyawk is a young female spirit. This one carries two babies woven into her abdomen. The bark painting, earth pigments on Stringybark, is called Pink diptych and was made in 2015 by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (Gamatj, born 1945). Such delicate nuances of pink, white and red. The necklace is by Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/ Boonwurrung, born 1961) and Leonard Tregonning (Gunai/Kurnai, 1954-2017). Made of kangaroo teeth, leather, sinew and earth pigments, it was made in Melbourne. There are lots of other ornaments on display, but this one was pretty spectacular.

This is just a small sample of what you’ll see if you get along to this exhibition. There is a lot of other work including beautiful batik cloth, painted skateboards, ceramics, photographs and many more paintings both contemporary and traditional. In addition, there are installations; many with a political message including the first encounter, a riposte to Andrew Bolt about what constitutes Aboriginality and lots more. Lots of food for thought and lots to enjoy. Well worth a visit.


3 Responses to Who’s Afraid of Colour

  1. Pauline says:

    Great read, I always thought Olsen was referencing Indigenous art but on hind site he was doing his paintings along side – time wise. Love Loraine and Jenny C’s works beautiful use of natural materials. Will have to get down to see it.

  2. Joe says:

    Yes. Sounds and looks fascinating.

  3. [...] The second place we visited at the Biennale is now known as the Welcome Centre, but in my day it was Sacred Heart College where my paternal aunts and cousins went to school as boarders many years ago. I’ve never set foot in the building despite spending six years at Loreto Abbey on the other side of town. Memories of boarding school days permeated my visit but I was pleased to discover one of my favourite works here. Jenny Cromption’s enormous installation Phototaxis. I was familiar with Jenny’s work from the exhibition Who’s Afraid of Colour held at the Ian Potter Centre in February 2017 which I’ve blogged about here, where I mention and include photo’s of Jenny’s work towards the end. [...]

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