1 Exhibition + 1 Look : Vivid Memories : A History of Aboriginal Art

Hello everyone, last week I traveled to Bordeaux (my sweet hometown) for the Holidays. Those of you who follow me on instagram and facebook saw a few photos of my trip to the Pyrénées (mountains located in the South of France, border with Spain).

I took the opportunity to check out a temporary exhibition at the Musée d’Aquitaine (Fine Arts Museum) about Aboriginal Art. I mentionned in the post about the Branly Museum I was eager to discover more about this art, (if you missed it here it is).


Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigène

The exhibition explores the history of Australian Indigenous Art in its relationship to the ancient and the modern. Traditionnal objects and contemporary work are brought together to show the transformation associated with this 40,000 years-old art tradition, which inspired several contemporary art movement in Australia.

The exhibition investigates the central issue of authenticity which affects most post-contact artworks and aim to demonstrate that tradition and modernity have always been simultaneously active in Australian artistic expression. Many indigenous artists, with various intercultural influences, are today rethink their material culture in creative ways, defining the place of contemporary artists in a globalised context.

This was the introduction of the exhibition, I was right away deeply interested by the topic of paralel between art history, material culture and contemporary art. Let’s go down the hallway, shall we ?

The first piece you are struck by is this one :

Sylvia Kanytjupai Ken, Seven Sisters, 2012, acrylic on canvas

Sylvia Kanytjupai Ken, Seven Sisters, 2012, acrylic on canvas

I felt like it was a risk to start with this one, it is so powerful ! It makes you wonder what’s next ? The other interesting aspect is the way it was showed.

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigèneThe miror is always a good way to discover a piece and point out all its tiniest details.

I learnt so much at this exibition, I did not understood what was representing the aboriginal paintings before. Actually it is the ground but also legends, stories and many traditions of their culture.

Let’s learn about the Seven Sisters :

The work depicts the story of the ancestral creation of the Pleiades and Orion constellations. A man called Nyiru (Orion) chases the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) hopping to abduct and marry the eldest. The girls attempt to escape by hiding in the Milky Way but using magic Nyiru captures the youngest sister. (…) In this account, the girl captured by Nyiru is set free by the elder sister and all seven return to the heavens together to form the Pleiades constellation.

In the aboriginal culture each celestial elements has an earthly equivalent. Here both the sky and earth are intertwine, they have no limits.

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigène

Another theme for another room is Material Culture, “What’s that ? Something New ?”. Nope actually it is quite old and the term is generic meaning it is the same word for every culture. You have material culture in Aboriginal Culture but also in French, Germany, American ones.

Basically it is the study of objects and their use in a culture. For example in France you can find research on the history of fork, or the history of perfume. It can seems fun and not-so-important, but actually such research can teach you how people lived in a specific region at a specific time. And you can cross the data, it is a way to know answers like : “why there were so many deaths at that time ?” Researchers will look on the way people lived, if they used water, washed their hands, eat properly, etc… If you are interested in that subject I might do an article about it, if so please leave a comment below.

Back to the exhibit ! In that room you have a selection of objects which were used in ceremonies by different tribes. Today it is hard to define the meaning of the drawings but apparently it is related to the beliefs of the tribes, their totems, their ancestors and also the locations connected to them.

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigène

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigène

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigèneAfter learning the representation in paintings (and their variousities) and also the traditionnal drawings, paintings on objects, the exhibition gave keys for understanding the rest.

The second part of the exhibition takes a new turn. The visitor has an understanding of the theme so the exhibition can go deeper in the history of aboriginal art and its meaning for the people.

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigène

Tommy McRae

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigène

Tommy McRae

Drawing was the only way to testify of what was happening. Above are the drawings of Tommy McRae born around 1830 he was bereft of his lands by the settlers in 1880. It is one of the firts looks on colonization from an aboriginal side.

Art was a way to keep tradition living for the artists like with Albert Namatjira.

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigèneAlbert Namatjira was a watercolour painter, he was considered the most well-known australian artist of his time. His non-traditionnal style made him a symbol of acculturation. But at the end of his life he revealed something : most of his landscapes painted the “European way” were actually figurative representations of sacred places. While painting he was doing his ritual obligations.Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigèneNow let’s enter in the third part of this exhibition. Called “Shapes” it states that it is that theme which demonstrates the most how traditional aboriginal art influenced contemporary one.

The three classical shapes of aboriginal art, concentric circles, hatches crossed and zig-zag patterns, are here declined in their ancestral and modern forms. Each express the possibility of a local anchorage (each shape is a location) but connected to the worlds (shapes move in time and space).

Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, Straightening Spears, 1996

Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, Straightening Spears, 1996

This piece is shown with the traditionnal object it represents beneath it. In the aboriginal culture some objects are painted, they have landscapes drawned on them and some others are considered to be directly a part of the landscape. “The object becomes the landscape”. The same way we saw at the beginning of the exhibition sky and earth with no limits, here the object become an abstract figuration “coming from a fusion between the object and the landscape”.

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigèneLast part of the exhibition is dedicated to contemporary art and if I am being honest probably my favorite part. However if I am COMPLETELY being honest I was able to enjoy this last part only because of the path created before. Everything I learnt previously allowed me to understand and fully receive the informations, the message, the feelings and everything shown in these artworks.

Paddy Bedford, Jack Flood, 2002

Paddy Bedford, Jack Flood, 2002

This is probably the piece which struck me the most. It is so powerful and full of emtions. I know it is hard to feel it in front of a screen but I was really moved by this piece. The artist Paddy Bedford started painting at 75 years-old, in 2000 he began a series of painting dedicated to the Bedford Downs massacre during which several people of his family perished in the early 1920’s.

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigène

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigène

Mémoire vives, une histoire de l'art aborigèneThese three images are part of a project : The Phone Booth Project, by Lilly Hebberd and Curtis Taylor, 2012.
Composed of 3 screen video projection, the project features the use of Phone Booth in the remote desert communities. It is quite interesting to watch these videos and try to understand the importance of that phone booth for these communities. It makes us look at ourselves and our use and dependance of phones and even other system of communication.

My tour of the exhibition is over, thanks for joining me. I really enjoyed this exhibition it is so well made, I was so covinced I bought the catalog.

Special Shout-out to the museum’s team because most of the thematic pannels of the exhibition are in three languages : French, English and Spanish !

If you happen to be in Bordeaux rush to the exhibition you have until March 30th !

The exhibition is at the Musée d’Aquitaine to know more here is the website (available in English) : http://www.musee-aquitaine-bordeaux.fr/

Now let’s talk a little bit about fashion…


Outfit of the day

outfit of the dayThis time I went for a grungy look. I think I was inspired by the 90’s…

Dress = Mango

Denim Jacket = Thrift Shop

Boots = La Halle

Coat = Andrew Marc

outfit of the day

outfit of the daySee you next time !


4 responses to “1 Exhibition + 1 Look : Vivid Memories : A History of Aboriginal Art

  1. Pingback: Musée du Quai Branly : Indiens des Plaines / Plains Indians |·

  2. Pingback: Books, Books, Books |·

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