THE YEAR THAT

Dame Rosie Hor­ton

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

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.

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