Aboriginal art before it became an industry

Aboriginal Art Directory | 21.01.08

Author: Rosemay Crumlin
News source: Eureka Street
Publication date: 0000-00-00 00:00:00

An republication of a Eureka Street article where Rosemay Crumlin recalls travelling in search of Aboriginal Christian art for an exhibition to coincide with the World Council of Churches Assembly. She was joined on her pilgrimage by exhibition co-curator Anthony Waldegrave-Knight and the project's conceiver, Frank Brennan, then director of the Jesuit research and social action agency Uniya.

Quoted from the article

But at Balgo, in the Central Desert, we came across some huge wall-hangings and panels rolled up in the church the people there use for liturgies. I knew we were at the edge of something. But the heat was terrible and Anthony and I and even Frank (who looks like God, walking around in his hat) thought we'd had enough. It wouldn't have taken much to persuade us to omit Turkey Creek from our itinerary.

I rang Sister Clare Ahern at Turkey Creek, admitting to some hesitation. Her reaction was unambiguous: 'I think you should have come here first.' So we caught the little mail plane to Turkey Creek and arrived at the Meriingki Centre.

There, on the walls, was what we had been looking for. Startling! ... absolutely knockout works from the people of the Warmun Community. But particularly astonishing were those of Hector Sundaloo, George Mung and Paddy Williams. These three had been Christians from way back, and now, in their late 50s or early 60s ... they are the unmistakable community leaders. Hector is regarded as a ngapuny man, a man of God.

There were many paintings we might have taken from Turkey Creek, all of them done not as an artist would paint in a studio but as part of liturgy, done for use.

And

This work of George's would take its place, I believe, beside the great sculptures in the history of art. It is as moving as the carvings at Chartres, as great as the Germaine Richier crucifix in the church at Assy or the great Lipschitz sculpture at lona. It is incredibly moving.

This image alone raises major questions, as did the whole Turkey Creek experience. The art would be worth millions of dollars to a collector. It is not well-known as yet. I wondered, what if we take a sculpture like George's and show it to the world? What happens to the community?

We spoke of this together with the people, backwards and forwards. Our argument was that this work of theirs no longer belonged just in that little group. The world is entitled to its greatness. Not that the people expressed it like that themselves. George Mung said simply (of his sculpture), 'You take it. You take it. I'll do another one.' Never was it so clear how different was his sense of time, value and ego from that of European Australians ...

URL: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=5066


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