Sydney exhibitions. Contemporary Indigenous Australian Art will be shown at Utopia Gallery. Exhibitions runs from 28 November to 19 December 2015.
“…when I see those Indigenous paintings crop up in contemporary art shows I go: ‘Are they contemporary artists?”, remarked Grayson Perry in an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald in early October. In one fell swoop revealing his ignorance, and his desire to stake out a label that is clearly self-serving, “as someone who is a contemporary artist and who sees a lot of people from all different areas – especially over the last 20 years – borrowing from the status of contemporary art.” And all this from a man who makes pots and wall hangings “pinched” from Indigenous cultures around the world – borrowing their status perhaps?
Christopher Hodges, director of Utopia Art Sydney, was shocked to read Perry’s comments, “I have fought for over 25 years to demonstrate to a wider audience that Indigenous Australian art IS contemporary. We obviously still have a long way to go… hopefully Perry will visit our forthcoming exhibition of current work by Papunya Tula Artists when he comes to Sydney for his MCA show. Perhaps we can have an open discussion about what it means to be ‘contemporary’.”
Hodges continued, “these artists are painting today – informed by and responding to contemporary Australian society, with all its complicated ramifications. Yes, this art is built upon a foundation of tradition, but contemporary western art also draws from a long cultural lineage.”
At its best, contemporary Indigenous Australian art is both deeply beautiful and deeply political. From those gem-like boards made at Papunya in the early 1970s, sparking the nationwide movement of acrylic painting in remote communities, to the recent “minimalist” fields of Pintupi masters such as George Tjungurrayi and Yukultji Napangati, great paintings move their audiences – viscerally and mentally.
They attest to skill and innovation, immersing us in mesmeric surfaces. They document ways of seeing and interacting, both with the landscape and with each other. They assert individuality, informed by a strong sense of community and shared history. They bring the lives and livelihoods of remote Australians to the cities of the world, and so encourage a dialogue that is needed as much today as it was forty years ago.
Papunya Tula Artists was founded in 1972, pioneering a cooperative model of a company entirely owned by Indigenous artists. Over the decades, the company has fostered individual careers of senior artists, at the same time giving back to the community as a whole through crucial initiatives such as the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal. The money generated from the sale of paintings also helped build a pool at Kintore, which has had an exponential impact on both mental and physical health outcomes in this community.
A community is nothing without its constituents. Each artist has a unique voice, and the paintings in our annual community shows always demonstrate the diversity and contemporaneity of work being produced by Papunya Tula artists today.
Papunya Tula Artists: ‘Community VII’. Utopia Art Sydney. 2 Danks Street, Waterloo NSW 2017. Opening Saturday 28 November, 3-5pm.