It's All About Country

Arrernte Watercolours from the Holmes à Court Collection

11 Brown Street, East Perth WA 6004
Start Date
22 November, 2007
End Date
3 February, 2008

With Indigenous reconciliation coming to the fore in the weeks preceding the federal election on 24 November it seems timely that the exhibition opening at Holmes à Court Gallery on 22 November presents a selection of watercolours from the Hermannsburg school.

Timely, because these paintings are an exquisite and subtle early expression of Aboriginal ownership and connection with the land,

Timely, because they remind us of the story of perhaps Australia’s best known Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira.

Timely, because Aboriginal sovereignty, property rights and the possibility of treaties remain contested issues.

In his lifetime Albert Namatjira was feted and acclaimed by white society, so much so that in 1957 he and his wife, Rubina, were given Australian citizenship before all other aboriginal people. Namatjira had worked continuously for twenty years as an artist, exhibiting widely and making a living from the sale of his art to raise his large family. But in 1949, and again in 1951, he was denied the right to purchase land. He bore the sadness that this caused him to the grave. He died, some said, of a broken heart when he found himself caught between the ignorant, though all-powerful, approval and disapproval of the white establishment. This same sadness prevails today in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia.

Aboriginal artists, however, continue to paint. As Galarrway Yunjupingu put it:

“We paint to show the rest of the world that we own this country and that the land owns us. Our painting is a political act”.

Cited in Alexis Wright’s essay The Politics of Art & Authenticity, Kaltja Now (2001)

Namatjira left a legacy, witnessed by the works in this exhibition that have been painted by families of painters – Namatjiras, Parreroultjas, Raberabas and Ebatarinjas. A legacy witnessed in Ntaria today where the artists continue to paint watercolours of their country, and the Hermannsburg potters work the clay and paint the pots in a similar representational style. Not too far away, Papunya artists are painting their country in quite a different way and artists as diverse as Ginger Riley, Gordon Bennett and Shane Pickett have demonstrated the influence that Namatjira had on them. Whether Aboriginal artists are painting at Papunya, Utopia, Ramingining, Lockhart River, Balgo Hills or Ntaria, and however they paint, their motivation is the same – it’s all about country.

Free Public Talk, Hermannsburg painting: origins and impact, by Associate Professor Ian McLean, Sunday 25 November 4pm.

Summer Salons, 16 & 23 January – enjoy a private viewing of the exhibition followed by a light meal in the gallery and a guest speaker’s talk.  Cost $45

For further information or images available for reproduction please contact Sharon Tassicker, Director, Holmes à Court Gallery (08) 9218 4539.

Image: Wenten Rubjuntja, untitled (Urengetyerrpe  – Simpson’s Gap), watercolour, 48.2 x 74.3 cm, © the Artist

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