A show of contemporary Aboriginal art opens at the Met in New York tomorrow. The Wall Street Journal‘s Candace Jackson gives some background on history of this hidden genre:
Several of the pieces in the Met’s installation are done with abstract dot-patterns, representing landscapes seen from an aerial perspective. Others are meant to represent “dreaming stories,” or aboriginal myths and legends, says Eric Kjellgren, the Met’s curator of Oceanic Art. One striking painting, “Bush Fire Dreaming” by Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, features a series of black and white stripes covering the entire canvas, which Kjellgren says tells the story of a father who set a fire to teach his children a lesson when they hunted a kangaroo and didn’t share the meat with their family.
Although a few of the Aboriginal Australians are now full-time artists, some still hold other jobs in their communities, says Kjellgren. None had formal training when they began painting. Though art is traditionally made by older people in Aboriginal communities, he says, the youngest painter included in the Met’s installation is Daniel Waldibi, 26.
Aboriginal artists live in some of the most remot corners of Australia, including the sparsely populated central desert region. Kjellgren says that although most of the contemporary art world’s big names today come from urban areas, “there really is this very lively form of contemporary art that’s going on in a very different context.”
Aboriginal art in its contemporary form began in the early 1970s, when white schoolteacher Geoffrey Bardon befriended some Aboriginals and supplied them with materials to make the art. Kjellgren says many of the artists and paintings included in the show are well-known in Australia but “it still has not received broad attention.”