Fluid face of art and soul

Aboriginal Art Directory | 03.10.10

HettiI Perkins doesn't like to play favourites, but in the second episode of the new television series Art + Soul, she stands by Fruit Bats, a sculpture by Yorta Yorta artist Lin Onus, to explain its unique appeal. The work comprises 100 fibreglass Arnhem Land-inspired fruit bats, striped with rarrk (cross-hatching), which are suspended from a Hills Hoist clothes line. The floor below them is littered with small flower-like discs: bat droppings. It is the idea of Aboriginal culture being in our backyards that delights her. ''It takes issue with this Great Australian Dream of buying a quarter-acre block in suburbia; who has the right to own a slice of this country? But it's also about Aboriginal culture swarming all around us.''

Perkins, the head curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is talking about a literal backyard, not a metaphorical one. It's not dot paintings, a distant Dreamtime and being out there in the never-never that she wants non-indigenous city folk to think about when they think of Aboriginal people. Indigenous culture isn't a museum artefact: ancient, backward, irrelevant, and incapable of change. Nor is it impossibly remote and hard to grasp. It's the opposite: complex, fluid, nearby and just as pertinent to indigenous Australians today as it was their ancestors. '''The Dreaming' has become this convenient cliche around Aboriginal art that sort of suggests it's this very nice, tidy, old thing. It's a romanticised view of what art and culture can be.''

It is precisely these ''romantic views'' that Perkins teases apart in Art + Soul, a three-part series, directed by Samson & Delilah's Warwick Thornton, that will screen on ABC1 next week. A densely researched, beautifully filmed and meticulously edited survey of some of Australia's most talented, charismatic and accomplished indigenous artists, the series allows Perkins to put faces, life stories, geographies and histories beside the canvases that capture them. When she's not rolling out her swag in some of our country's most remote reaches, she's traipsing through cities and suburbs. If there are dots to be drawn, Perkins marks and joins them herself; Aboriginal art provides, for her, a window not only onto the culture and country it represents. It's also a powerful means of preserving individual and collective senses of identity. What makes indigenous art so compelling is that it has important things to say.

URL: http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/fluid-face-of-art-and-soul-20101001-16143.html

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Contact Details

Gallery: Art Gallery of NSW
Contact: Cara Pinchbeck - Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
Email: artmail@ag.nsw.gov.au
Telephone: +61 2 9225 1700 or 1
Address: Art Gallery Road Sydney Sydney 2000 NSW



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Gallery: Art Gallery of NSW

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