Aboriginal Art gets a show in New York City that attracted Melik Kaylan. His review in the Wall Street Journal captures the fascination and frustration Westerners feel with this compelling body of work:
How to look at Aboriginal painting? If we knew nothing else, the sheer joyous vitality of the images themselves—with their dot-pattern chiaroscuros, elemental colors and buzzing lines—would amply satisfy the eye. But as the exhibition shows us, there’s a great deal more to know, a host of backstories that deepen and illuminate our sense of the art—and often leave us baffled by its mysteries. The paintings themselves are full of embedded narratives connected to the Dreaming, the Aboriginal genesis mythology—itself a series of disparate narratives, as most genesis mythologies are.
In looking at Aboriginal art, we are, after all, looking back at our species in a more primitive state, though it sounds politically incorrect to say so. The asymmetries between the sexes, the guarding of male power with secrecy, the tribally enforced segregation and the like should not detract from our enjoyment of the art. Such things do present a painful quandary to strict multiculturalists who would like all genders and cultures to be interchangeably equal when, alas, many of their favored subcultures don’t see things that way. But for the rest of us, the show offers a chance to enjoy a glimpse of how, eons ago, in an ancient landscape, our species was able to find patterns of beauty in nature.
From a Primitive Present (Wall Street Journal)