Aboriginal Art and Art around the World

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Kate C


Kate CKate is MV’s online writer and editor. Her job is to dig up great stuff to put on the museum’s website. Kate loves shiny things, cake and creepy crawlies.

Rare scene of first European contact

by Kate C
Publish date
3 April 2012
Comments (4)

Significant objects in our collections can remain more or less anonymous simply because they have been detached from their stories. They sit there, quietly waiting for someone to spend some time with them and join the dots.

Two researchers working with the Indigenous Cultures collections recently made an exciting discovery that returns two objects with incomplete provenance to a very important body of work. It began with Rosemary Wrench, curator of the Many Nations section in First Peoples, the new exhibition that is under development for Bunjilaka. While the exhibition focuses on south-eastern Australian Aboriginal nations, the Many Nations section celebrates Indigenous culture from across the country. Rosemary’s task is to curate over 600 examples of Indigenous artworks, tools and artefacts that tell the stories of the people who made them, used them, and continue to do so today.

“When I started looking for suitable items, I eliminated all the restricted material first,” explains Rosemary. “Then I wanted objects we hadn’t put on display before. I considered 14,000 to 15,000 objects and systematically started going through the collection stores because there was no other way to do it.”

Last year she opened a cabinet full of boomerangs. One of them was carved with an extraordinary scene of two Aboriginal men hiding behind a tree, watching Europeans and their horses. She showed it to Jason Gibson, an Australian National University researcher working on the Spencer and Gillen Australian Research Council project. “Straight away, Jason said ‘I think that’s by Jim Kite’.” Jim Kite Erlikilyika [from Alyelkelhayeka, meaning “he slipped” or “glided away”] Penangke (1865-1930) was a Lower Arrernte man from the Charlotte Waters area. He joined Spencer and Gillen’s 1901-02 expedition as an interpreter and is recognised as an accomplished artist.

Boomerang made by Jim KiteBoomerang made by Jim Kite, or Erlikilyika. Above: Upper side decorated with images of two stockmen and their packhorses and two Aboriginal men watching on. Below: Line art of the carved boomerang.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

The boomerang was purchased by the museum in 1946 from the estate of Herbert Basedow, a geologist, explorer and medical practitioner who worked in Central Australia and known collector of Aboriginal art. It came with no documentation at all. “It was clear to me from the style that it was Jim Kite’s work but I had nothing to prove it,” says Jason. Last month, he began searching for the proof for the artist behind this boomerang and another, exquisitely carved with hopping mice, from the Basedow collection.

Boomerang carved with two hopping-miceBoomerang carved by Jim Kite Erlikilyika with two Spinifex Hopping-mice (Notomys alexis).
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum victoria

In a newspaper article in the South Australian Register, Jason found a detailed interview about Jim Kite’s 1913 art exhibition. “In the interview, he described this boomerang with two men hiding behind a tree.” Not only was the creator of the boomerang identified, but the story behind the scene.

Detail of carved boomerangDetail of boomerang showing the explorers of John McDouall Stuart’s expedition.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

Detail of boomerang Detail of boomerang showing two men hiding behind a tree.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

“According to Jim, these were Aboriginal people watching the first European explorer, John McDouall Stuart. When they saw a man dismount from his horse they were shocked because they thought the man and the horse were one entity. They’d never seen a horse and definitely never seen a white person.” Jim Kite had captured a moment of ‘first contact’ from an Aboriginal point of view, making it an incredibly significant object. Erlikilyika was born five years after Stuart’s arrival; the story he carved was told to him by people who saw it, whether they were members of his own family, or the people he interviewed when travelling with Spencer and Gillen. “Some people have described Erlikilyika as the first Aboriginal ethnographer because he was actively engaged with the interview process with Aboriginal people and made his own pictorial notes – markings to explain the Dreaming stories to Spencer and Gillen,” continues Jason.

This discovery links previously unprovenanced objects back to Jim Kite Erlikilyika Penangke’s story. Rosemary and Jason have also identified a whip handle and walking stick in the collection that they think could be the work of Jim Kite. Rosemary concludes, “it’s very rewarding work, reconnecting these objects with their story.”


Erlikilyika (1865–1930) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography

The expedition photographs of Herbert Basedow, National Museum of Australia



Google virtual Art Gallery tour is awesome

Rare scene of first European contact

national museum of the american indian
National Museum Of The American Indian To Inaugurate Native American Art Exhibition
A spectacular, permanent exhibition of almost 700 works of Native art from throughout North, Central and South America is now open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the George Gustav Heye Center. Organized by geographic regions, “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian” demonstrates the breadth of the museum’s renowned collection and highlights the historic importance of many of these iconic objects.(view more…)

Aboriginal Artists

If you want to know where you can buy Aboriginal art by Dorothy Napangardi or visit your nearest museums with paintings by Clifford Tilmouth, search this artist directory for a full list of vendors that match these criteria. Browse for Aboriginal artists through our multi Aboriginal Art Search tool below, by popular viewed artists or our newly released artist slideshows. Alternatively, view the complete list of Aboriginal artists.

Video:  Albert Namatjira – Aboriginal Artist Australia


Drifting in My Own Land: Nalda Searles

Holly Story, reviewDrifting in My Own Land: Nalda Searles
John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University of Technology, Perth
Touring Australia 2009 – 2013
19 June – 30 August 2009

This landmark exhibition – part retrospective, part new works – confirms Searles as an artist at the height of her powers. Over the past thirty years she has become respected and beloved Australia-wide as an exemplary maker, teacher and mentor, bridging indigenous and non-indigenous art worlds. Seeing works spanning her long career shown together in the same exhibition provides an insight into the development of her ideas and methods, and many hallmarks of her continuing practice are evident very early. A commitment to found, gathered and gifted materials; the use of ancient technologies such as coiling, twining and stitching; a fearless approach to building form; a belief in the well-made object; and a steadfast trust in the power of place to inform the work.

View Larger Image
Nalda Searles Guarding the Eggs 2008, salvaged pram, grass birds, salvaged fur, xanthorrhoea wood fragments, 123 x 120 x 70 cm. Photo: Eva Fernandez.

Searles’ early works comprise sophisticated basketry forms, neckpieces and other objects made in specific locales and with materials found there or given to her. They show her sensitive and sure handling of structure and content, already consciously employing the dialogues of natural/manmade and indigenous/non-indigenous to articulate the work. She cites West Australian ceramicist Eileen Keyes as a major influence at this stage, encouraging her to use what came to hand and to ‘listen’ to her materials. Both are skills underwritten by her childhood games in the bush around Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, where her parents farmed and where making and making do, were simply how one got along.

Rosalie Gascoigne’s work similarly evokes country from found and weathered materials. Time and place are key elements informing the work of both artists. But whilst Gascoigne’s elegiac pieces tend toward the minimal, Searles’ works are increasingly quickened by narratives of desire and longing. Perhaps it was growing up observing the struggles of farming in the Australian bush that has given Searles her especial keenness in exploring what she calls ‘the constant argument’ between nature and culture, whilst always seeking to realign the two through the gentle but firm insistence of her art practice. In her new works this undertaking has become more overt and urgent and she has begun unpicking the notion of a boundary between internal and external perception. To truly understand this fluid relationship would have a profound effect on the way we inhabit the land.

In Inland Boundaries Searles has literally unpicked a red linen dress and then stitched the pieces into a large field of earth-stained cloth. Under the edge of each shape she has cut a slit, and from the other side we see thin, flickering red lines tracing a series of irregular rectangles. Searles likens these to the lines of fire in a Tim Storrier painting; to the advancing blaze across a paddock; to the boundaries drawn on the land and around our selves. She says ‘sometimes we don’t know which side of the boundary we are on’.

Red has been a significant colour in Searles’ work from the beginning. She uses it judicially, referencing blood and/or sexuality. ‘Loitering at the Dancehall’ involves a seductive black satin dress placed in a ground strewn with Kangaroo Paw flowers cut from red blanket. Searles likens them to phalluses in their uprightness against the soft folds of the dress. ‘Sweet Desire and When They Danced He was Transformed’ approach the erotic intensity of the art of Louise Bourgeois, but here male sexuality is transformative and sweet, unexpectedly portrayed by soft cascades of old muslin adorned with dried pink bush blossoms tumbling from parts of a man’s suit.

In 1992 Searles met Wongi woman Pantiji Mary McLean and this had a profound impact on both their lives. They took many journeys into country, worked together and became lifelong friends. Searles learnt Mary’s Ngaanyatjarra language and at last came to feel she was no longer ‘dumb in the landscape’. In ‘Drifting in My Own Land’ we hear Searles speak with authority and sureness, confident in what she knows and urgent to tell it. Hers is a mythic and psychic landscape where plants, animals, humans and the earth itself act and are acted upon by each other. In the excellent accompanying catalogue she writes: ‘… and I am at last taking shelter / in the gnarled / the privileged / woodlands of my mind / ‘ngurra walykumunu’ / it’s a good camp’.

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Michael Paraskos Last chance to see – Clive Head’s hugely popular painting exhibition at the National Gallery, London. Despite almost no coverage in the art press (is there a conspiracy we might ask) the show has drawn record crowds (up to 2,500 a day). It proves there is a public appetite for high quality contemporary art that does no… More


Top 10 art exhibitions of the week

The best art exhibitions on now across the UK – Alastair Sooke and Richard Dorment’s pick of the week.

5:00PM GMT 16 Nov 2010

1. Gauguin: Maker of Myth | Tate Modern, London SE1 (020 7887 8888), until Jan 16

Humdinger of a show devoted to the French stockbroker-turned-artist who exchanged Paris’s civilised boulevards for a more primitive life in the South Seas, where he concocted intoxicating canvases dominated by fierce, flat colours, simplified designs and strange, fetid symbolism.

2. James Turrell | Gagosian Gallery, London WC1 (020 7841 9960), until Dec 10

Scintillating exhibition — his first at Gagosian — by the American artist who works with light and is famous for transforming an entire volcano in the Arizona desert into a jaw-dropping observatory-cum-work of art. For this exhibition, if you book ahead via the website, you can reserve a slot inside Bindu Shards, a Sputnik-like metal sphere, which you enter on a retractable bed, as though undergoing an MRI scan. Once inside, you are subjected to a psychedelic light show lasting around 15 minutes that is a thing of intense wonder and beauty.

3. Bronzino – Artist & Poet at the Court of the Medici | Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy, until Jan 23

The work of Agnolo Bronzino – court painter to Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany – has provoked violently diverse responses. This exhibition sets out to rescue the painter from 19th-century stereotype and 20th-century neglect. It iis the first comprehensive show dedicated to the work of Bronzino, drawing together more than 70 of his paintings.

Due to their fragility, painted in oil on panels of wood, this is a show that will not travel beyond Florence and may well never be repeated. It is unlikely that the painter will ever be seen in such depth and breadth again.

4. Journey Through the Afterlife | British Museum, London WC1 (020 7323 8299), until March 6

Major exhibition devoted to unravelling the mysteries of the Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian compilation of spells and incantations designed to help people chart a course through the underworld to immortality. The show features a wealth of fragile objects, including works on papyrus and linen, funerary figurines and amulets, as well as resplendent mummy masks.

5. Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance | National Portrait Gallery, London WC2H (020 7306 0055), until Jan 23

Ravishing paintings by the popinjay portraitist of the early 19th century – a charming, self-taught child prodigy who succeeded Reynolds as Painter in Ordinary to the King. Lawrence captured the glamour of Britain in her prosperous pomp, and his fluid, showboating brushwork caught the eye of the great French Romantic painter Delacroix. This is the first exhibition of Lawrence’s work in Britain since 1979.

6. Francesca Woodman | Victoria Miro, London N1 (020 7336 8109), until Jan 22

Selection of around 50 unsettling yet beautiful black-and-white photographs by the American who specialised in uncanny self-portraits and committed suicide in 1981, aged 22. Since her death Woodman has become a cult figure, and this show offers an opportunity to understand why.

7. The £40 Art Collection | Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh (0131 650 2210), until Dec 11

Heart-warming exhibition of modern British art amassed by Tom Alexander, a silver-tongued shopkeeper on the Scottish Isle of Arran who wrote directly to artists he admired and, somehow, persuaded them to sell him wonderful works of art for as little as £40. The list of artists he managed to charm is impressive, and the collection includes work by Barbara Hepworth, Ivon Hitchens, LS Lowry, John Piper, Stanley Spencer and Graham Sutherland. Also on show are examples of the straightforward correspondence between Alexander and the artists on display, providing testament to a more innocent time when the art world was untainted by hucksters and money-grubbing wheeler-dealers.

8. Paul Cézanne: The Card Players | Courtauld Gallery, London, until Jan 16

Cézanne’s series of paintings The Card Players is the cornerstone of his work between 1890 and 1895, and the prelude to the explosive creative achievement of his last years. It was a simple but inspired idea for the Courtauld Gallery to bring together three of the five versions of the picture and to display them alongside the preparatory studies in pencil, watercolour and oil. In addition, three of Cézanne’s most powerful portraits, all showing one of the models Cézanne used for The Card Players, complete our understanding of how he worked during this crucial period.

9. Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds | Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London SE1 (020 7887 8888), until May 2 | Four stars

For this year’s commission in the annual Unilever Series, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei offers a sombre, subtle installation consisting of a 10cm-deep bed of more than 100 million imitation sunflower seed husks, each one made out of porcelain and hand-painted by Chinese artisans over the past two years. As you walk across them it’s impossible not to reflect that each unique seed is an analogy for an individual human life, playing on Western perceptions of Communist conformity, as well as our knowledge of the tens of millions crushed to oblivion beneath Mao.

10. Move: Choreographing You | Hayward Gallery, London SE1, 020 7928 3144, until Jan 9

The key idea of this show is to present the work of artists and choreographers who have been interested in making the viewer move, propelling them through space both to see how they cope — and what they make of it. It asks a lot of the visitor, but it is also an enjoyable opportunity to examine, with just the right mix of levity and seriousness, the question so eloquently stated by The Killers: “Are we human, or are we dancer?”

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