Introduction to the Origin…
Introduction to the origin and the early occupation of Australian Aborigines and the Contemporary Aboriginal Painting Movement of Central Australia
It now seems, as further paleontological evidence comes to hand, that Australian Aborigines are believed to have arrived on this continent at least some 70,000 years ago when sea level was about 75 metres below its current height. Travelling by watercraft from South-East Asia, they supposedly entered the continent by way of Timor and Papua New Guinea.
They were a hunter and gatherer society, occupying a variety of land habitats – snow country to the south of the continent, desert terrain throughout the outback regions of Australia, and rainforest along the coastal fringes and highland regions of Australia’s north.
It is estimated, when European settlement began in 1788 some 300,000 Aborigines were living throughout Australia in distinct cultural groups and were collectively speaking up to 300 languages along with some 600 dialects, sadly, only a minority of these are in existence today, most of which are found in the more remote regions of Australia such as the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The most common language, spoken in Central Australia today is the Western Desert language which consists of several dialects such as Pitjantjatjara, Luritja and Pintupi.
Art of Aboriginal Australia is one of the oldest and the last great tradition of art to be appreciated by the world at large. It remained relatively unknown until the second half of the twentieth century. Inherently connected to the religious domain and generally the concern of men traditional forms of Aboriginal Art were associated with body decoration, bark, ground and rock paintings, ceremonial sculpture and rock engravings. It is in fact, the Dreaming (the period of creation… the period of laying down the laws of social and religious behaviour) which provides the great themes of art, such as the Tingari Cycle which constantly features in the paintings of Western Desert Art.
It was not until the late 1930’s that Aboriginal Art (having long been referred to as Ethnographic Art and relegated to the bowels of museums) began its transformation into twentieth century visual expression by way of the introduction of watercolours to Central Australia.
However, it was nearly four decades later that the real catalyst behind one of the great success stories of Contemporary Aboriginal Art began. In 1971, a young and compassionate art teacher by the name of Geoffrey Bardon was initially sent to the community of Papunya (a dysfunctional government settlement) some 260 kms north-west of Alice springs to teach Aboriginal children art. After a series of events, there resulted in a transference of traditional art forms (by community male elders) onto a range of contemporary media…..
With the introduction of acrylic paint in 1972 (which succeeded ordinary house paint in 1971) and an ever expanding group of artists, the famous art company Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd (also know as the Western Desert Art movement) was established. Before long, much interest and enthusiasm had spread to other Aboriginal communities in the Central & Eastern Desert regions of Central Australia, each of which had developed their own distinctive regional style. Before long, much interest and enthusiasm had spread to other desert communities such as Yuendumu, Balgo Hills, Lajamanu and Utopia, each of which had developed their own distinctive regional style.
By the late 1980’s not only had this exciting new art movement gained momentum in Northern Australia, such as the Kimberley, Arnhemland and the Tiwi Islands, but state galleries, museums and art collectors had begun to acquire works as well as incorporating Aboriginal Art into major exhibition schedules.
Commercial galleries had also established a presence and would play a vital & powerful role in the ongoing development and marketing of the Contemporary Aboriginal Art Movement. In 1990, one such gallery which opened its doors in the heart of Australia was Gallery Gondwana.
Under the enthusiastic and visionary directorship of Roslyn Premont, (who previously managed the Centre for Aboriginal Artists) Gallery Gondwana committed itself to nurturing and advancing the work of both established and emerging indigenous artists from the Central, Western and Eastern desert regions as well as showcasing the best work of indigenous artists throughout Australia but also include the finest in Australian design and arts from the Asia and Pacific region.
The work of Gallery Gondwana artists (which comprises an exclusive group of cutting edge artists such as 18th NATSSIA Award winner Dorothy Napangardi and Dr George Tjapaltjarri) has featured in major national and international exhibitions, broadening the awareness and appreciation of audiences throughout the world.
Artists were provided with studio space encouraging and supporting experimentation as each artist explores the boundaries of their practice.
Back to Country trips were regularly facilitated by the gallery allowing artists to visit significant Dreaming sites which provide invaluable stimulus and inspiration for their painting practice.
The Contemporary Aboriginal Painting movement of Central Australia has evolved well beyond the crude house paint, composition board and lino of the early Papunya years. It has now been accepted & absorbed into the broader spectrum of Contemporary art in general, such as major state galleries and institutions playing a key role in purchasing major works by way of their own acquisition policies, hence acknowledging the cultural and artistic values of Contemporary Aboriginal Art.