THE YEAR THAT
Dame Rosie Horton
It was 2011. I had been collecting Aboriginal art, especially of contemporary women artists, for about 15 years when I read an article in The
Australian about these extraordinary Bagu art pieces. They fascinated me and I was determined to add them to my collection. I traced them to a gallery in Brisbane. The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art bought half the collection and I bought the other half, and I was totally captured from then on. My husband, Michael, and I have added to the collection since then and I understand ours is the largest private collection of Bagus in Australia and, in fact, larger than any public collection of Bagus.
The Bagus are little images of fire spirits. They come from Cardwell, south of Cairns. The Aboriginal people of Cardwell, who make the Bagus, have just had their DNA analysed and the tribe goes back more than 40,000 years. All those years ago, when they needed fire they used the Bagus, which have two holes that sticks are put in to make fire.
The Murrays are the family in Cardwell who make them. When we were there with the clan we got the stories behind the Bagus, and they were talking about hardships and family feuds from centuries ago.
The most important thing to me about the contemporary Aboriginal art collection is the spiritual connection I feel to the art and the artists. It’s been one of the most spiritual and important things that Michael and I have ever done. If you search Horton Aboriginal Contemporary Art Collection on YouTube, you can see them.
The figures are full of stories and magic and the Dreamtime. The journey is continually refreshed and renewed, and spiritually I’m renewed and uplifted and learn a lot about these very ancient people and their ancient art. It’s something to nurture and love.
I’m very keen on my wee people. When I get back to our home in Australia after we’ve been away, I rush to see them. They’re so pleased to see me: “She’s home and we’d better watch out.” I know if they’re happy or unhappy. They tell me. They communicate. They are supposed to be talked to and I talk to them. Then I ring my guy who looks after them and he comes over and we move them around and decide who is not happy with whom.
We have been worried about what will happen to this art I can’t stop collecting. We recently gifted the whole contemporary Aboriginal art collection including the Bagus, unencumbered, to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which will take it when their new extension is completed. It’s the largest collection of contemporary Aboriginal art ever gifted to the gallery.
I hope people will be as captivated as we are and fall in love with indigenous art and feel as we do. People say to me: “But you don’t collect New Zealand art.” I know a lot of it is captivating, and I probably should have made the effort but this was an instant turning on of the light. Something clicked. I’ve often thought I should get my DNA done — I wonder if 40,000 years ago I was an Aboriginal. There was a definite kinship of spirit and an easy rapport and interaction with the people.
Spiritually I’m renewed and uplifted and learn a lot about these very ancient people and their ancient art. It’s something to nurture and love.