Tracking the paths of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art

Tracking the paths of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art and its relationship with colonial and post-colonial Australia has been under the spotlight over the past few weeks.

Songlines, an exhibition showcasing ancient Aboriginal stories, was postponed indefinitely by the South Australian Museum after a group of traditional owners threatened legal action because it publicises what they say are secret men's stories. The intervention divided the Aboriginal community into camps – those who believe the exhibition is a mortal threat to Aboriginal culture versus those who say it offers a way to preserve knowledge for future generations and advance the understanding of Aboriginal culture.

And in Auckland My Country: Contemporary Art from Black Australia, an exhibition organised by the Queensland Art Gallery|Gallery of Modern Art, is showing at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki. Curated by Bruce McLean (associated with the Wirri/Birri-Gubba community in Queensland), it's an exhibition about Aboriginal art and how it fits into the wider context of Australian art, but it has a darker side – imaging the brutal and sometimes genocidal consequences of Australian colonialism.

My country also features artists like Gordon Hookey who say they are distanced from the traditional  desert painters. “As a blackfella artist I have more in common with whitefella artists than the tradition-oriented artists in the desert or bark painters, simply because I am operating in the discourse [of contemporary art]”' he says. “With urban-based artists, culture is a dynamic and diverse thing that is constantly changing, and we are making art about that change.”

Hookey and others in the show belong to the the proppaNOW collective which emerged as a strategy to address the challenge of how their art can be seen as part of the contemporary art scene, rather than being stuck in the box marked Aboriginal.

You can read a review of My Country: Contemporary Art from Black Australia here.

Image: Michael Cook, Civilised #13, 2012