Mankokkarrng (The Southern Cross) 1948
earth pigments on paper on cardboard
45.5 x 58.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the Commonwealth Government, 1956
© The artist
Coinciding with the International Year of Astronomy, Shared Sky explores the cultural experience of the night sky over our southern continent.From Warmun in North Western Australia to Melbourne in Victoria artists of different cultural backgrounds and locales explore humanity's enduring psychological engagement with the southern stars over the centuries. This exhibition of prints and drawings by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists from the NGV Collection also includes sculpture, painting and photography.
European understandings of the Earth and the heavens were influenced by the ideas of early astronomers, such as Ptolemy and Copernicus, and visualised in a sixteenth century star chart by Albrecht Dürer and in John Bevis' Uranographia Brittanica c.1750. As navigational aids, these celestial maps reflect the journeys of the Dutch, French and British who sailed the southern seas in search of Terra australis incognita, or the hidden continent of Australia.
A cluster of Morning Star poles introduce one of the many Indigenous creation stories that are associated with the Sun, the Moon and the Milky Way. Works by Dennis Nona and Norah Nelson visualise the disparate Indigenous readings of The Pleiades, or Seven Sisters star cluster. A large scale linocut by contemporary Torres Strait artist Alick Tipoti illustrates the connection between ancestral spirits and constellations such as the Southern Cross.
Another theme in the exhibition is comets, meteors and falling stars, which were considered to portend significant natural or historical events. The astronomical depictions by the Victorian colonial explorer Ludwig Becker capture the momentary beauty of such occurrences, while Tim Jones and Ludwig Hirschfield Mack used the night sky as a device for exploring the human condition. NASA photographs taken of the Earth from a lunar orbit in the late 1960s signified the advent of space exploration and another dramatic shift in humankind's perception of our place in the Universe.