• Pumpuni jilamara

    Pumpuni jilamara 1995

    Kitty Kantilla Tiwi

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    Notes

    A seemingly abstract inconography lies at the heart of Kitty Kantilla’s art. Far from being non-representational, however, the different combination of dots, lines and blocks of colour called jilamara (design) together invoke inside elements of ritual and reveal the essence of Kantilla’s cultural identity.

    Like other Tiwi artists, Kantilla gained the stuff of her art-making in ceremonial contexts before learning to express her individuality by carving and painting objects of the Pukumani (mourning) ceremony. In explaining her work the artist says, ‘The jilamara that I do, it’s my father’s design. I watched him as a young girl and I’ve still got the design in my head.’

    Kantilla’s Pumpuni jilamara is composed largely of densely textured blocks of colour on black or white – Kantilla’s elegant geometry is broken by minor segments of dots and lines. The artist is working with broader gestures and fields of cloudy white, intense red and dense yellow on black: chords in a four-part harmony. Most of the composition consists of solid ochre fields, infused with tonal and textural variations: the end result remains a measured and balanced synthesis and has an adagio rhythm.

  • Imperial Leather

    Imperial Leather 1994

    Julie Gough Tasmanian Aboriginal

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    Notes

    In her work Imperial leather, Indigenous Australian artist Julie Gough makes an uncompromising statement about the symbolic power of the flag in the European colonisation of her people's country.

    Gough examines the oppressive and discriminating policies that have afflicted people since British Invasion. Here, 41 waxen trophy heads hang like soaps on ropes or nooses. They refer to whitening through assimilation. The Union Jack suggests white invasion and control of Aboriginal people. Australia is still enmeshed in dialogues of invasion, control and the silencing of the original owners.

  • Melbin 1901-1910

    Melbin 1901-1910 2001

    Julie Dowling Badimaya

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    Notes
  • Lake Como

    Lake Como 1922

    Tom ROBERTS

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    Notes
  • A hostile landscape

    A hostile landscape 2003; 2004 {printed}

    Brenda L. Croft Gurindji; Mutpurra

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    Notes

    In 1997, Brenda L. Croft was sorting through the material possessions of her recently deceased father. In an old shoebox she found a slide container with images taken of her father in the mid 1950s.

    In 2003, Croft returned to these slides, reworking and enlarging some of them for this series. This photograph shows Croft’s father as a solitary figure in the urban environment of Melbourne in the 1950s. He appears as a poignant figure posed in a deserted landscape that seems to offer little in the way of human companionship.

    Croft has always been interested in issues of identity, heritage and place and, in this highly personal series, gives the viewer a touching insight into issues connected with Australian culture in the 1950s. As she poetically writes of the images: ‘man about town. boy from the bush. Colour bar. Calibre. Coolabah. mid 1950s. Prosperity. Naivete. Optimism… the savage un-made. Unknown beauty. Unutterable…’.


Identity

Contemporary Indigenous perspectives

Cultural identity is a strong theme in contemporary art.

Some artists explore this theme by interrogating social, political and personal issues relating to notions of race, memory and history. For some artists of Indigenous background, ceremonial materials and iconography learnt from within their culture continue to play an important role in expressing cultural identity.

  • Ceremony and celebration

    A seemingly abstract iconography lies at the heart of Kitty Kantilla’s art. Far from being non-representational, however, the different combinations of dots, lines and blocks of colour called jilamara (design) together invoke inside elements of ritual and reveal the essence of Kantilla’s cultural identity.

    Kantilla pursues her art from deep within her culture. By painting, Kantilla is also singing and dancing: she senses and invokes the decorated objects, the painted dancers and their kinetic movement, the percussive rhythm and dynamism of ceremony.

    Kantilla’s works are highly charged with ceremony, with something spiritual and untouchable. This is her Tiwi-ness, her identity: it drives her to make art and is her special form of activism.19

  • Colonisation and confrontation

    While Kantilla celebrates, Gough confronts. In her work Imperial Leather 1994, 41 waxen trophy heads hang from nooses arranged in the formation of the Union Jack. It is a hard-hitting work and one that seeks to highlight the brutal policies that have afflicted Aboriginal people since British invasion.

    It’s a theme also pursued by Julie Dowling in her Federation Series: 1901–2001. The work’s ten panels are each based on a decade from 1901 (Federation) to 2001. Each panel features a portrait of a family member surrounded by richly layered symbols, images and text representing events and policies that have shaped history, in particular the lives of Indigenous people. It is a meshing of Australian and family history that is both political and personal. Julie 1990–2001 2001 portrays the artist herself.

  • Challenging stereotypes

    Some contemporary artists create work that challenges stereotypes and presents alternative ways of considering identity.

    Vernon Ah Kee’s work is primarily a critique of Australian popular culture, specifically the idea of a Black/White dichotomy. If I was white 2002 comprises a set of 30 small texts with the overall-title, If I was White.

    This text-based installation work reveals and condemns the widespread and inescapable discrimination and racial stereotyping that Indigenous Australians have experienced since European colonisation and continue to experience in everyday life.

  • Self-determination

    While the camera was often used as a tool in the nineteenth century to define and confine Indigenous people according to ethnographic and anthropological conventions, today many Indigenous artists are using the camera to make self-empowering statements about cultural and personal history.

    In her series Man about town, Brenda L. Croft offers a personal insight into issues connected with Australian culture in the 1950s. This photograph is an archival image, found among personal belongings, which she has increased dramatically in scale. It shows Croft’s father as a solitary figure in the urban environment of 1950s Melbourne.

Endnotes

  • 19 Judith Ryan, 2003 Clemenger Contemporary Art Award, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 20.