Collectors and museums worldwide relish the striking color and intricate patterning of Aboriginal paintings created by artist’s in the nation’s central dessert region in particular. The works’ nuanced expressions of Aboriginal history and culture reinforce their significance as rich cultural artifacts.
Lands of Enchantment: Australian Aboriginal Painting presents 26 masterworks by some of Australia’s best-known painters, including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Dorothy Napangardi, Abie Loy Kemarre, Mitjili Napurrla, and Eubena Nampitjin. These works of art, which have never been exhibited publicly, are drawn from the collection of Ann Shumelda Okerson and James J. O’Donnell of New Haven, Connecticut and Washington D.C. They are avid world travelers as well as passionate educators, and are devoted to sharing their collection with the public and ensuring the legacy of Aboriginal artists.
In 2006, NMWA presented the ground-breaking exhibition, Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters. Since then, interest in Australian Aboriginal art has soared, with collectors working assiduously to acquire desired works and auction sales routinely profiled in arts magazines. Lands of Enchantment builds on Dreaming Their Way by including works by male artists in order to demonstrate the broader context of contemporary Aboriginal painting.
Lands of Enchantment also explores how contemporary Australian Aboriginal paintings are expressive representations of Dreamings—ancient Aboriginal stories about creation and ancestral spirits who inhabited an undatable past called Dreamtime. Contrary to the prevalent Western view that draws clear distinctions between nature and civilization, Aboriginal culture holds that all living beings and elements of geography have been inextricably related through time.
Aboriginal artists have long been noted for their work in traditional media such as bark painting and wood carving. Although these art forms are still practiced, many contemporary artists working in central and north Australia—including those featured in Lands of Enchantment—choose to work with the modern medium of acrylic paint on fabric.
They extend the ancient tradition of drawing ritual designs on the body or into the earth by rendering intensely colored, semi-abstract symbols of plants, animals, and features of the landscape on their canvases. Through these alluring images, the artists seek to share a part of Aboriginal culture. The paintings are also powerful political acts— statements of the Aboriginal people’s rights to the land and assertions of their enduring cultural presence in Australia.
The picture shows Eunice Napanagka Born 1940, Language: Pintupi, Tjukurla - other side of Docker River, 2001, Acrylic on linen, 48 x 66 in., Collection of Ann Shumelda Okerson and James J. O'Donnell, Ikuntji Artists Aboriginal Corporation, Copyright remains with the artist. -- www.nmwa.org