All posts in “Australian Aboriginal art”

Object of the Week: Wilkinkarra

The year 2016 wasn’t all bad, and in fact it proved a remarkable year for the growth of SAM’s permanent collection. Just in the area of paintings, the museum acquired Robert Colescott’s colorful Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, on view on the third floor at the top of the elevators; the beautiful Nicolas Colombel Cupid and Psyche now installed in the large European art gallery on the fourth floor; and quite a few other cool things. The largest painting SAM acquired, and among the most visually striking, is Wilkinkarra, a blast of spotted color spread over a 6-by-10-foot canvas, from Australian Aboriginal woman artist Mitjili Napanangka Gibson.

Wilkinkarra came to SAM from the distinguished collection of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, out of which a whole survey of Australian Aboriginal art was culled. Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art came to SAM in 2012 and showcased more than 100 artworks that, for many of us, provided an introduction to the history and thriving culture of Australian Aboriginal painting.

When encountering something new, we often try to connect it to something we already know and understand. This is natural because our brains are wired to make sense of new experiences and stimuli by comparing them to ones that already exist in our mental databank. Looking at Wilkinkarra, I was struck by how the aesthetic is distinctively “modern.” Countless bright pops of bold color—pinks, purples, blues, yellows, and oranges—emerge in organic patterns, encircled in heavy black outlines. The dotting approach echoes pointillist painting in the late 20th century, and we could also picture this piece fitting cleanly into newer schools of abstract art.

Only this is not an abstraction, but a representation of a specific landscape, pictured from a bird’s-eye view, and created within a unique culture and school of art-making. While we might see immediate, purely visual connections to the Modern art that we already know, there are still more meaningful connections to be made.

In the exhibition catalogue for Ancestral Modern, Lisa Graziose Corrin finds one of those connections in the idea of journeying. First, note that the features of the land itself, and the idea of moving through the land, have special meaning in Aboriginal culture: “Mitjili Napanangka Gibson’s Wilkinkarra refers to a ritual walkabout in her homeland. For Aboriginal artists, travel through the landscape is spiritual, something performed as well as painted. The ritual walkabout and the represented walkabout are equally significant mappings of sacred cultural experience. Both ensure the continuation of Aboriginal cultural memory that is deeply embedded in the topography of ceremonial places.”¹

Second, consider Corrin’s idea that “At one level or another, contemporary culture is a traveling culture.” The city of Seattle plays host to crowds of neo-nomads. The actions of moving, traveling, journeying, and migrating affect many of us in profound ways, shaping how we understand ourselves and how we relate to the people and places we encounter. Global Modern and contemporary art reflects these ideas. At SAM we see it in works like Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, and in William Kentridge’s Shadow Procession. Lawrence, Kentridge, and now Gibson remind us that sharing about where we go, and what we go through, is a very human thing to do.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

¹ Lisa Graziose Corrin, “Staging Australian Aboriginal Art,” Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art, exhibition catalogue, Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, in association with Yale University Press, 2012; 46.
Image: Wilkinkarra, 2007, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson (Australian Aboriginal, Warlpiri people, Western Desert, Northern Territory, born ca. 1940), synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 78 3/4 x 120 1/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, 2016.25.

SAMart: Elles: SAM is ending, but women artists are still here

Near the center of Australia, out of a station named Utopia, a group of women have painted their way to fame. They are among the leading names in Australian Aboriginal art and many attribute their fluid use of acrylics to years of experience with painting bodies for ceremonies. One of the younger artists is Abie Loy, who began painting at the age of 22, and was mentored by the older generations. Each Utopia woman has developed her own style, but all rely on consistency and repetitive structure. Awelye is composed of rectangles that embody a multitude of minor variations. Loaded brushstrokes define the frameworks, while tiny white dots offset a black background. The artist credits ceremony as a source for inspiration, but one outsider’s reading of the accumulated surface is to see it as a vast array of windows onto another world.

While this is the final week to see Elles: SAM, many works by women artists remain on view at SAM within our permanent collection and special exhibition galleries. Paintings like Awelye can be seen at SAM as a result of a longtime and continuing commitment to great artists, regardless of whether they are men or women

Awelye “Women’s Ceremony”, 2006, Abie Loy Kamerre (Australian Aboriginal, Anmatyerr people, Utopia, Central Desert, Northern Territory, born 1972), acrylic on linen, 40 3/16 x 59 13/16 in., Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan in honor of Mimi Gardner Gates, 2009.19, © Abie Loy Kamerre. Currently on view in the Contemporary and Australian Art gallery, third floor, SAM downtown.

Gearing up for Remix!

Hey there! It’s Natalie Dupille, SAM’s newest PR intern. I’m excited to be working here, and even more excited for tomorrow—and not just because June 1 is my 21st birthday. Tomorrow is Remix, SAM’s hippest quarterly event, and it promises an evening jam-packed with performances, talks, dancing, DJs, and more.

I’m totally intrigued by Seattle band Midday Veil, who will be fusing mesmerizing, hypnotic rock meditations and vibrant projections to grace us with unique multimedia performances at 9:00 and 10:45 pm in the South Hall. On top of that, there’s the collaborative music and art installation by SAM and Olson Kundig Architects, inspired by the Theaster Gates exhibition, which runs through July 1. Join us in the Chase Open Studio, where, in addition to listening stations and hands-on activities, DJ Riz presents the Stairway to Vinyl Listening Party, where he’ll spinning LPs from the Record Store’s robust collection of records throughout the evening.

Remix is also a great opportunity to check out SAM’s newest exhibit, Ancestral Modern, an exuberant exhibition of contemporary art from one of the world’s oldest living cultures that includes more than 100 artworks created by Australian Aboriginal artists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Cellist Paul Rucker will be creating “Sonic Interpretations” live in Ancestral Modern at 9:15 and 10:30 pm tomorrow, a surefire way to experience an already rousing exhibition.

Having never before attended Remix, I am thrilled to not only be able to attend, but also to be a part of this exciting event. Looking forward to all that and more, hopefully my enthusiasm is contagious, and I will see you there!

PS- The first 50 people in rainbows get in for free. Rock that ROYGBIV!

What’s in a Groove?

It’s the feeling you get from hearing music that makes you want to dance, the break in a revolving and evolving drum beat, even a familiar routine that puts you “in the groove.” Of the many definitions one is a reference to those small indentations, or grooves, on a vinyl record that, when it spins, give the needle a track to run on and produce a musical groove. Jazz musicians’ use of the term refers to hearing one musician’s seemingly effortless playing, and can be heard in the context of “that cat’s deep in the groove.” This is itself a reference to listening to records and the needle’s ability to dig even further into the vinyl at that moment in time.

The Commodores. “Movin’ On.” 1975. Photo by the author. 13 April, 2012. JPEG file.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can also see grooves expressed in the rhythmic patterns of visual art. This happened to me on a Friday morning at SAM as I explored the collection of Australian & Oceanic Art in SAM’s Theiline Pigott McCone Gallery. I wasn’t searching for grooves in particular, but looking closely at the elongated hollow log coffins in the Aboriginal Art collection and seeing the striated line work carefully drawn in steady rhythmic cadences I suddenly thought of the grooves both musical and pressed into vinyl records across the museum in the Listening Room’s record archive.

Hollow log coffins, dupun, from central and eastern Arnhemland, Australia. Photo by the author. 13 April, 2012. JPEG file.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These groups of tall Eucalyptus logs signify a place for “sorry business,” and describe how the Yolnu, native to Australia’s East and Central Arnhemland, practice remembering deceased members of their community in a very different way from ours in the West. During the ceremony bones of the deceased are placed in the logs during ritual dances known as Dupun. The log coffins have been naturally hollowed out by termites, and are then left to the elements following the ceremony. Yolnu artists cover the logs in images of the country and designs of the clan of the deceased using a brush made of long human hair.

detail of Rirratjingu Larrakitj, (clan coffin). 2003. Wanyubi Marika. Photo by author. 13 April, 2012. JPEG file.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grooves I saw covering the log coffins, the interlocking white lines, represent “deep knowledge, sea foam and ribbons of tide.”[1] Bones are infused into the log coffins of the Yolnu to connect deceased people back into the land. I see a further connection here with Theaster Gates: The Listening Room in that both records and the hollow log coffins provide an archive of shared history on aural and visual levels. Both of these customs are contemporary works of art that create and embrace cultural memory and shared history, highlighting the ideas and values of a culture that influenced their design. The jazz in here, or what continues to lure us in, is that they undoubtedly do this with a discernable groove.

-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern 


[1] Mundine, Djon. Quote taken from the information placard relating to the Hollow Log Coffins in SAM’s Theiline Pigott McCone Gallery.

Last photo: detail of Rirratjingu Larrakitj, (clan coffin). 2003. Wanyubi Marika. Photo by author. 13 April, 2012. JPEG file.