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Tiwi tutini’s horseshoe welcoming viewers to the new exhibit at the reopened Ian Potter Center at the National Gallery of Victoria

posted by Jeremy Eccles | 25.11.20

Gallery: National Gallery of Victoria
23.11.20: 08.03.21

Wonderful to report that after all of this state’s hardships, Victoria’s art galleries are popping up all over the place – and naturally First Nations art and culture is taking precedence!

At Melbourne’s NGV, not one but two late shows broke – the big one ‘Tiwiexhibition under the direction of Judith Ryan; and ‘destiny‘(Deacon of course) led by Myles Russell-Cook. Then, in Bendigo, this gallery’s development of an Australian fashion collection allowed South Kaantju woman Shonae Hobson to bring together ‘Piinpi‘- meaning the seasonal changes in the languages ​​of Eastern Cape York – showcasing the new fad of native fashion.

Tiwi‘naturally interested above all in a place I have visited and written about in the past – and more than justified by the size of the company which required a 325 page catalog. This is the first attempt to explain the uniqueness of the culture of the Bathurst and Melville Islands since the Art Gallery of SA did it rather well in 2006 under the direction of James Bennett, who had the invaluable benefit of having been the first art coordinator at the Milikapiti Art Center at Snake Bay on Melville.

And Milikapiti has produced a stream of important artists from the late Kitty Kantilla to today’s cultural leader Pedro Wanaeamirri. It is suggested that the lack of missionary activity at Snake Bay may have been an artistic advantage. But with names of artists such as Mary Magdalene Tipungwuti and Immaculata Tipiloura, there is no denying the presence of the Roman Catholic Church on the islands. And Bennett’s thesis at the AGSA was that Tiwi’s adaptability had always allowed outsiders to play a part in their non-sacred artistic pursuits – from Macassans in the past, to bison hunters bringing steel axes. which made it possible to seriously carve the impenetrable ironwood of the islands. to enhance the tradition of pukumani pole carving, to anthropologist Mountford suggesting that they paint stories of their unique founding myths on the bark in 1954 – both of which were new ideas for this predominantly carving people.

And what a great idea it turned out to be! As the catalog summarizes: “The 1954 Tiwi art collection (114 commissioned works) is much more than the sum of its cultural signs or material form; it is more than the differences in the artistic language of artists both in intention and in materiality. It is an invitation to the spectator to pay close attention to its precocious authenticity, its cultural durability, its sagacity and its substance, its continuity. Unlike much of Western art, this is not art in a hurry; he tells you to take your time, to watch and to listen ”.

Some find it difficult to spot the “sagacity” in the flavors of abstract iconography that dot the barks, canvases and engravings of Tiwi that followed. But Judith Ryan is quite clear: “The aesthetics of abstraction is much more important to Tiwi than the meaning”. It is clear that these marks come from body paint – often using a pwoja/ comb to industrialize the process – and some rhythms can come from the dance. In the case of Kitty Kantilla, there must also be a reflection of her skin group, which is rain – how better to interpret than dotted.

But I’m glad to think that this emphasis on the abstract arose in part from my interactions with Jane Goodale while writing about AGSA’s 2006 exhibition. The American anthropologist was there with Mountford in the 1950s and she insisted on the fact that before, “traditional painting was and is abstract, that is to say without history”. The benefits of this are certainly underscored by the fact that art galleries in Sydney and Melbourne made their first forays into Aboriginal art. like art via collections by Poles Pukumani – those commissioned by Stuart Scougall for AGNSW in 1959 and some “borrowed” by the NGV in 1968, all of ten subsequently acquired.

While Arnhemland’s artists made bark that at this time could be classified and rejected by art curators as ethnology, these sculptures had an unmistakable aesthetic. Although it unfortunately took 10 to 20 years for the rest of First Nations art to break through these blind barriers.

Tiwi” offers nearly 300 exhibitions by 70 artists including Cardo Kerinauia, Declan Apuatimi, Deaf Tommy Mungatopi, Mani Luki and Enraeld Munkara from the heyday of sculpture, via women who have done both sculpture and painting such as Nancy Henry Ripijingimpi and Freda Warlapinni, to today painting leaders like Michelle Woody, Timothy Cook and Cornelia Tipuamantumirri. A somewhat sterile tutini horseshoe greets the arrivals, failing to capture the wonderful acceptance of decay these poles would accumulate in real life (and death) as they record a deceased person’s character and memory. which fades around his grave on the islands.

During this time, ‘destinyis work done almost as far away from the Tiwi Islands as possible. Nothing abstract here, although some are a bit hazy. Oddly enough, Destiny Deacon has its ancestral origins close to Cape York and Sea Island in the Torres Strait – but her whole life has been in the south: “I’m a proud girl from Melbourne,” she says. . More than that, she is Blak. And, with its deliberately misspelled exhibit in 1991, ‘blak lik mi’, it is believed that by distinguishing Aboriginal from skin color by this single word, she seems to have invented urban political art in Australia.

What’s odd is that while others are angry catchphrases, Destiny has a biting humor that sucks and pisses you off! As a much more serious artist, Danie Mellor comments in the catalog on the series “Man and doll” featuring artist brother John Harding and a scruffy doll in various urban settings, “I really didn’t get it at all, but I feel transported, so in my mind the pictures work and I feel very satisfied. There is the feeling that something is offered, appreciated, unanswered. They suggest a set of possibilities ”.

Mellor is one of a group of all-black commentators in the Big Catalog – with the exception, of course, of Virginia Fraser, Destiny’s frequent non-Native photographer. What she thinks of increasing the “possibilities” of interpreting a photo through intentional blurring, I don’t know. But it must work – for Large format the magazine critic enthuses: “One of the privileges of attending a series of Deacon photographs in a dedicated exhibition is the to feel of them. Many works are blurry. Blurry, and deliberately. Deacon tells me they represent “moods”. “Like a painting,” she says. “Sometimes that’s how I see it.

Do I hear Blak impressionism? Not a phrase that crosses the mind of Sydney Biennale director Brook Andrews as he raves about Destiny’s three decades of work, “The beauty of its simplicity in weaving stories and allegories and poetry of the image, to weave harmony and healing to that which has been broken.

As of February 14, 2021.

And so of ‘Piinipi‘in Bendigo. Two years of development have gone into the Shonae Hobson exhibit and 30 years of incredible history. Because Hobson is happy to accept that non-Native designers Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee collaborated with the Native world in the 1970s. Today you can’t have an art fair without a First Nations fashion show. , and Darwin this year added the National Indigenous Fashion Awards – whose winning outfits will be in Bendigo (later at the National Museum in Canberra), including the gorgeous Peggy Griffiths “Heritage robe” from East Kimberley.

In all, 70 artists, designers, and makers are included – because, let’s not forget that many Indigenous designs require non-Indigenous techniques to turn into something wearable. Collaboration is the name of the game. Entrepreneur Grace-Lillian Lee therefore turned to former TSI master Ken Thaiday for palm weaving techniques that could create remarkable dresses. She defiantly asserts, “I’m tired of the fact that everyone expects native fashion to look like native art. I think that really marginalizes us in a narrow category. I think that if artists are only used – and used is the word – for their history and their aboriginal, it is not really ethical ”.

The other contributing language groups range from Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria west of Victoria, where Lyn-Al Young was tasked with making four outfits for the opening show.

As of January 17, 2021.

PS – I just heard that the Victorian government has found a large sum of money to build NGV Contemporary on the South Shore of Melbourne – at 30,000 square meters, the largest such space in Australia. It will give Director Tony Ellwood great joy to surpass his last QAGoMA assignment in Brisbane; and give even more heartache to the folks at the Adelaide Art Gallery where the South African government denied them a contemporary art extension in favor of an indigenous cultural center.

Hope Ellwood learned a lesson from QAGoMA that huge size isn’t everything when it comes to exhibiting art!

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Contact details

Gallery: National Gallery of Victoria

Gallery: National Gallery of Victoria
Contact: Judith Ryan
Telephone: +61 3 8620 2222
Address: NGV Australia Federation Square or PO Box 7259 Melbourne VIC 8004 Corner of Russell and Flinders Streets Melbourne Melbourne 8004 VIC


A range of Bima clothing from the Tiwi Islands that can be seen at ‘Piinpi’ in Bendigo – later Canberra


‘Koori Kitsch’ with artist Destiny Deacon, inventor of black in Aboriginal art

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