Abo­rig­i­nal Art: The finest Abo­rig­i­nal art for sale

Where Sydney - - Contents - BY SU­SAN GOUGH HENLY

ABO­RIG­I­NAL ART IS MYS­TI­CAL and awe-in­spir­ing and dis­plays a pro­found con­nec­tion with the unique Aus­tralian land­scape. It also of­fers an ex­cit­ing jour­ney of dis­cov­ery into one of the world’s old­est sur­viv­ing cul­tures.

Yet be­cause it is so dif­fer­ent from Western art it can be dif­fi­cult to know how to iden­tify and buy au­then­tic pieces. Here are some valu­able in­sights into the in­cred­i­ble di­ver­sity of Abo­rig­i­nal art and how to go about find­ing the best pieces to suit your bud­get.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists have dated Abo­rig­i­nal rock art as far back as 40,000 years or more. Abo­rig­i­nals have been cre­at­ing other less per­ma­nent art forms, in­clud­ing body, bark and sand art, for un­told cen­turies.

Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture is rooted in the land. There are not one but many dif­fer­ent Abo­rig­i­nal cul­tures spread across every part of the coun­try. Each has its own lan­guage and com­plex be­lief sys­tem that ex­plains the uni­verse and the place of peo­ple within it.

Be­cause there are so many dis­tinc­tive Abo­rig­i­nal cul­tures there is also a great di­ver­sity of artis­tic styles and me­dia, from the well-known dot paint­ings of the Western Desert to the Western Kim­ber­ley’s ghost-like Wand­jina cre­ation an­ces­tors with huge mouth­less faces.

Tra­di­tional Abo­rig­i­nal art prac­ti­tion­ers do not see them­selves as artists but as sto­ry­tellers. Since there are no writ­ten lan­guages, the mak­ing of art­works is all about shar­ing a spir­i­tual as­so­ci­a­tion with a spe­cific land­scape or ‘coun­try’, as well as com­mu­ni­cat­ing obli­ga­tions to this ‘coun­try’ through Dream­ing sto­ries and Song­lines. The Dream­time de­scribes the time of cre­ation when enor­mous mythic crea­tures roamed the Earth cre­at­ing land­forms and de­cid­ing which peo­ple could live in each spe­cial place.

The sto­ries are told via many dif­fer­ent me­dia. Tra­di­tion­ally, there was rock art, sand and body paint­ings as well as ochre bark paint­ings, wood carv­ings and fi­bre weav­ing, the lat­ter por­ta­ble art still avail­able to­day.

Con­tem­po­rary Abo­rig­i­nal art us­ing Western acrylics on can­vas be­gan as re­cently as 1971 in the re­mote town­ship of Pa­punya, west of Alice Springs, when a teacher named Ge­of­frey Bar­don gave some acrylics to men in the com­mu­nity to paint a mu­ral on the school wall. This was how the Western Desert Art move­ment be­gan. Since then dozens of art cen­tres have de­vel­oped in tiny com­mu­ni­ties from Fitzroy Cross­ing in the Kim­ber­ley to Man­ingreda and Ngukkur in Arn­hem Land. Each has art ad­vis­ers who bring in can­vases and paints and get the art­works to ma­jor ur­ban mar­kets. While the ma­te­ri­als may be Western and while the colour­ful im­agery may seem like ver­sions of Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism, the most of these works evoke tra­di­tional dream­ing sto­ries or kin­ship with the land and its bush foods.

Visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales to see its ex­ten­sive In­dige­nous col­lec­tions, in or­der to ed­u­cate your­self about the rich di­ver­sity of artis­tic styles through­out the coun­try as well as see­ing con­tem­po­rary ur­ban works. Many young ur­ban artists are in­ter­pret­ing their cul­tural sto­ries in new and in­ter­est­ing ways.

As with any art form, there are au­then­tic works and cheap im­i­ta­tions. It gets more com­pli­cated when you learn that most In­dige­nous works are not signed. You can, how­ever, be as­sured that works are au­then­tic if you buy from mem­bers of the Abo­rig­i­nal Art As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia, the Aus­tralian Com­mer­cial Gal­leries As­so­ci­a­tion and the In­dige­nous Art Code. Those are the of­fi­cial names of the blue-chip in­dus­try bod­ies that will pro­vide the cor­rect au­then­ti­ca­tion and pay artists fair com­mis­sions.

Pro­fes­sional art gal­leries spe­cial­is­ing in Abo­rig­i­nal art have knowl­edge­able and ex­pe­ri­enced staff who can pro­vide ex­cel­lent ad­vice, as well as in­tro­duc­ing you to both es­tab­lished and up-and­com­ing artists who work in the styles that most in­ter­est you.

There are also three ma­jor In­dige­nous art events each year: The Tel­stra Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Art Awards ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory from Au­gust through Novem­ber in Dar­win, The Desert Mob event held at the Araluen Arts Cen­tre in Alice Springs in Septem­ber and the Cairns In­dige­nous Art Fair held in July.

Re­mem­ber to con­sider a wide range of artis­tic en­deav­ours. If you are look­ing for an in­vest­ment piece, large scale acrylic paint­ings tend to ap­pre­ci­ate the most but you could also search out more af­ford­able lim­ited edi­tion prints by es­tab­lished artists.

There are also many other me­dia to dis­cover such as bark paint­ings, poles, weav­ings and screen-printed fabrics. All of­fer a pow­er­ful con­nec­tion to Aus­tralia and its en­dur­ing Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture.

Re­mem­ber, you don’t have to spend a for­tune to take an au­then­tic piece of Aus­tralia home with you.


Lo­cated 10 min­utes from the CBD and spread over three lev­els, this gallery stocks a huge range of con­tem­po­rary In­dige­nous art of note in­clud­ing pieces from Glo­ria Pet­yarre, Min­nie Pw­erle and Emily Kng­war­r­eye, and a host of other ac­com­plished and emerg­ing artists. Of­fer­ing per­son­alised ser­vice, their friendly staff are on hand to as­sist with any queries you may have. 680 Dar­ling Street, Rozelle. Open 7 days. 9555 5283. ka­te­owen­gallery.com

Abo­rig­i­nal Art Gal­leries.

Abo­rig­i­nal Art Gal­leries is Syd­ney’s largest col­lab­o­ra­tive of In­dige­nous art gal­leries, pre­sent­ing over 140 artists from which to choose. They have on of­fer Abo­rig­i­nal art­works, didgeri­doos, sculp­ture, totem poles and other arte­facts. View a large va­ri­ety of beau­ti­ful af­ford­able or in­vest­ment art­works by Dorothy Na­pan­gardi, Walangkura Na­panangka, Min­nie Pw­erle and Kud­ditji Kng­war­r­eye. Opera Quays. Shop 13, 2 East Cir­cu­lar Quay. Queen Vic­to­ria Build­ing. Shop 47–51, Level 2, 455 Ge­orge Street, Syd­ney. 1300 385 862. Open 7 days. abo­rig­i­nalart­gal­leries.com.au

Ku­run Warun, “Dry Riverbed”, acrylic on linen, 90 x 120 cm, from Abo­rig­i­nal Art Gal­leries.

Sa­man­tha Hob­son, “Fly Over Reef”, 295 x 180 cm, from Kate Owen Gallery.

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