Colour Power
Aboriginal art post 1984
Eileen Mbitjana
Kaytetye
White tree - Bush orange 2000
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
127.2 x 120.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Aboriginal Art, 2001
2001.571
© Reproduced courtesy of the artist & Alcastan Gallery, Melbourne

This exhibition celebrates Aboriginal art of the 'New Wave': the daring and visionary use of colour by Indigenous artists throughout Australia. In defiance of preconceptions that the quintessential colours of Aboriginal art are natural ochres, Colour Power unveils its opposite – a farrago of great colourists, working with new media of acrylic and enamel paints, neon, glitter, wools, inks and dyes, metal, paper, canvas, textiles, ceramics and photography.

Colour Power focuses mainly on the revolutionary decades 1984–2004, which issue from the genesis of the Western Desert art movement at Papunya in 1971–72, when senior men invented a new art form, which has had a 'big bang' effect on the evolution and acceptance of modern Indigenous art within the mainstream. In experimenting with acrylics the founding Papunya artists opened up a Pandora's box: once the bright colours had been let out there would be no turning back.

The awakening of Aboriginal women – the hitherto sleeping giants of the Aboriginal art world – as creators and inventors in new media occurred slowly through the 1970s and 80s, initially via the batik medium. Preceding the expansion of the Papunya Tula movement, north to Yuendumu and Lajamanu and west to Balgo Hills in the mid 1980s, Pitjantjatjara women in Ernabella and Fregon to the south and Anmatyerr and Alyawarr women at Utopia Station to the east, celebrated colour in their fluid batiks and in vigorous painted sculptures, before making the transition to canvas in 1988–89, when the art world began to take notice.

Colour Power includes tough and cheeky paintings by city-based artists Gordon Hookey, H J Wedge, Julie Dowling and Ian Abdulla, who confront issues of dispossession, dislocation, ethnocide and the stolen generation and serve to dispel romantic or negative stereotypes of Indigenous people and their histories that abound in popular culture. Hookey says about his use of colour: "I haven't been trained as a painter so I naively just use every possible colour that I can get and often when I do paint I squeeze all the colours on the palette first and then, you know, then mush them up and just use them, you know, helter skelter, or just any which way."

Colour Power encompasses work by a diversity of outstanding artists: Uta Uta Tjangala, Emily Kngwarray, Eubena Nampitjin, Ginger Riley, Tommy Watson, Jimmy Pike and Peter Skipper. It represents the art-producing communities of Papunya, Yuendumu, Lajamanu, Balgo Hills, Utopia, Haasts Bluff, Santa Teresa, Ernabella, Daly River, Ngukurr, Tennant Creek, Elliott and Bathurst Island in the Northern Territory as well as Fitzroy Crossing, Bidyadanga, Warburton, Irrunytju, Docker River, Tjuntjutjarra and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and Lockhart River in Queensland. Great individuals such as Barney Ellaga and Samantha Hobson electrify the viewer with their adventurous use of primary colour. Theirs is a fresh vision at the cutting edge of contemporary practice that runs counter to purist demands for a minimalist iconography and palette.

Artists represented in the exhibition
Brook Andrew, Reela Angie, Minnie Motorcar Apwerl, Biddy Baadjo, Djambu Barra Barra, Taparti Bates, Kantjupayi Benson, Ngarta Jinny Bent, Wanyina Biddy Bonney, Anmanari Brown, Nyuju Stumpy Brown, Daisy Bullen, Marlingana John Charles, Jukuna Mona Chuguna, Peter Clancy, Jean Cox, Jijija Molly Dededar, Doris Doherty, Julie Dowling, Purlta Maryanne Downs, Barney Ellaga, Wayawaya Sundown Ellery, Lorna Napurrula Fencer (Yulyulu), Untjima Fred Forbes, Jampalwarnu Paddy Japaljarri Gibson, Kurtiji Peter Goodijee, Kuji Rosie Goodijee, Willie Gudabi, Samantha Hobson, Estelle Hogan, Gordon Hookey, Weaver Jack, Bert Jackson, Juntiyi Japaljarri, April Jones, Peggy Napangardi Jones, Daisy Napaltjarri Jugadai, Peggy Nangala Jurra, Mary Kangi, Willie Kew, Emily Kam Kngwarray, Monday Kunga, Jakapa Dora Kwilla, Myanpung Julia Lawford, Bessie Liddle, Bertha Linty, Joe Jangala Long, Trixie Long, Yangkarni Penny K-lyon, Dorothy May, Ngarralja Tommy May, Eileen Mbitjana, Tracey Moffatt, Donald Moko, Mati (Bridget) Mudgidell, Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Daisy Ngawaia Nalyirri, Eubena Nampitjin, Narputta Nangala, Sally Liki Nanii, Milliga Napaltjarri, Susie Bootja Bootja Napaltjarri, Makinti Napanangka, Nancy Naninurra Napanangka, Bai Bai Napangarti, Paddy Jupurrula Nelson, Mawukura Jimmy Nerrimah, Janyka Ivy Nixon, Amy Nuggett, Elizabeth Nyumi Nungurrayi, Ena Gimme Nungurrayi, Nora Wompi Nungurrayi, Nyunjarn Charlie Nunjun, Fiona Omeenyo, Hitler Pamba, Loren Pennington, Myrtle Pennington, Billy Morton Petyarr, Kurnti Jimmy Pike, Dick Japaljarri Raymond, Nada Rawlins, Clem Rictor, Eva Rogers, Janjin Sweeney Nipper Rogers, Darby Jampijinpa Ross, Jirtin Pompey Siddon, Pijaju Peter Skipper, Jukuja Dolly Snell, Nyirlpirr Spider Snell, Wakartu Cory Surprise, Billy Thomas (Joongoorra), Elsie Thomas, Alan Winderoo Tjakamarra, Boxer Milner Tjampitjin, Murtiyarru Sunfly Tjampitjin, Jukuja Nora Tjookootja, George Tuckerbox, Judy Napangardi Watson, Maggie Napangardi Watson, Tjuruparu Watson, Tommy Watson, Alma Webou (Kalaju), H J Wedge, Moima Willie, Helen Wunmariar, Boxer Yankarr, Paji Honeychild Yankarr


27 Nov 200414 Mar 2005 The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square