I attended the November opening of this exhibition at Montevideo’s MAPI museum, Museo del Arte Precolombino y Indigena and returned last weekend with Mike and our friend Gail for another, more careful look than was possible that day. This visiting exhibition is currently showing until sometime in May; but don’t leave it until the last week to go see it. Of course, being a (non indigenous) Australian, I am thrilled to see this collection of art from our ancient continent appearing here in Montevideo UY after extensive travelling in Brasil. It’s here with sponsorship from various parties Australian, Brasilian and Uruguayan.
Like many other ancient people, Australian Aborigines see the natural landscape and phenomenona around them in terms of behaviour or decrees of their spirits. Every object, every landscape feature, weather event, every animal, every person, has a spirit. To understand and be connected to the world it is vital to know ancestral and spirit stories: these contain the societal norms and environmental knowledge needed to remain connected to the land on which Aboriginal people have lived for at least 40,00 and possibly 60,000 years according to some experts.
A really informative statement appears here, in the weekly listing of cultual programming here in Uruguay, which my computer automatically translates https://www.cartelera.com.uy/averespectaculo.aspx?23003
In common with many other indigenous peoples, story telling often has woven into it the impact of a colonising group’s arrival. In 1788 a group of English settlers, convicts solders and government officials landed on the east coast of the continent to set up an English penal colony at where the city of Sydney is today. January 26, 1788, began a new phase of the human history of the continent which is now Australia. The process of colonisation severely damaged the Aboriginal people and their culture, as usually happened elsewhere. Recovery from that position has been long, painful, and is still incomplete.
This exhibition includes work created by indigenous Australians over the past 50 years, in effect most of my adult lifetime. I became aware of Aboriginal art while I was still at school, and a bit more so while at university. It is true that during my own lifetime Australians as a whole have gained greater knowledge and understanding of the Aboriginal people through their art in particular. Our museums, institutions and major collectors contribute to the growing popularity of all forms of Aboriginal art through exhibitions like this one. Intellectual property rights are now fully protected by law and generally respected.
However, all is not rosy in the idigenous population. In common with other colonisation in other parts of the world, the clash of cultures resulted in social problems that were exacerbated by government administrators and by missionary do-gooders who all operated on values of two centuries ago that are so out of step with modern values. There were brutal repercussions and massacres in retaliation for stock thefts or other crimes against white man’s property laws that were not easily understood by Aborigines.
In a different kind of violence, people were pushed off their traditional lands to make way for farms and sheep and cattle stations, and forced to live on reservations. Aboriginal children were taken into mission schools and towns so that they could get a (foreign, alien but ‘proper’ english education) Far too many were brought up not knowing their true identity or anything of the families they’d been taken from, and many never recovered from that trauma. Sally Morgan has written of her first hand experience, see link at the end of this post.
Treating Aboriginal people as simple minded children who needed to be paternistically controlled by well meaning authorities, though they meant well, has been disastrous for the Aboriginal people. Today, their part of the Australian community has much shorter life expectancy, higher infant mortality rates, widespread health and welfare problems due to dietary changes and alcoholism. There are bright spots though, including that today more Aboriginal people are achieving the education required to thrive in the non-traditional world while maintaining strong links to their traditional lands and cultural practices.
In this lovely exhibition there are many more works, but I just selected the few most special ones. Others included work by names I knew well, but wasn’t so excited about. For example the work Punmu – The Universe by Rover Thomas, was behind glass and hung up so high it could not be seen well at all, and in that position didn’t look too interesting compared with others in the show.
This visiting exhibition is currently showing until sometime in May; but don’t leave it until the last week to go see it 🙂
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS, START HERE:
- Owen Yalandja http://www.annandalegalleries.com.au/artists-details.php?artistID=17-Owen%20Yalandja
- Emily Kame Knangwarrey https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Kame_Kngwarreye#Yam_dreaming
- Sally Morgan artist and author
- Abie-Loy Kemarre
- Jack Dale https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Dale_Mengenen
- Queenie McKenzie
- Jack Britten
- Mitjili Napanangka Gibson