Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Before Time Today: Reinventing Tradition in Aurukun Aboriginal Art

Currently at the University of Queensland Art Museum a number of disciplines within the University have come together to create an exhibition showcasing the past and present art of the Aurukun people. Located in far north Queensland this isolated aboriginal community was established as a mission by the Presbyterian Church in 1904 resulting in the residents spending the last 100 odd years in a bi-cultural environment.

This cultural cross between the indigenous and western culture has not compromised the traditions and customs of the original residents of Aurukun, known as the Wik and Kugu people. Instead, it is seen in the exhibition as a way that these people can reinvent and develop their cultural practices. This development is evident in the exhibition through the comparison of new and older works. While retaining a strong cultural and aesthetic connection, these works are becoming more distinguished as the tradition is continued.

Image: University of Queensland
‘Before Time Today’ develops a framework of understanding between the past and present and does this particularly through the use of sculpture, as it is a strong characteristic of Aurukun art. The Wik and Kugu people’s sculptural tradition dates back to before the mission was established, when sculptures were used in ceremonial rituals to represent mythical spirits and ancestors. Traditionally once the figures had served their purpose they were discarded in the bush, but since the 1970’s the Aurukun artists work has been increasingly in high demand. This development and interest from outside their culture has resulted in the aesthetic of the Wik people becoming more refined and distinctive.

This refinement of contemporary art is not just exclusive to this medium of sculpture but is recognized throughout the exhibition and can be attributed to the introduction of new products and skills with the arrival of the Presbyterian Church early in the twentieth century. This establishment of a new way of life resulted in many traditional practices for creating art being altered to accommodate for the change in lifestyle.

The characteristic aesthetic of the smooth, rounded sculptures originated from the ceremonial figures that were traditionally moulded in clay. This distinctive aesthetic has been preserved through the development of the production of these works. With clay work giving way to woodwork and more recently woodwork giving way to metal work. The traditional practices are continually being reinvented and reinvigorated to withstand the pressures of modern life.

A great example of this is seen in the display of crocodiles in the exhibition. Craig Koomeeta is one of Aurkun’s younger and most prominent contemporary artists and is a great ambassador for the development in Aurukun’s art. Two of his contemporary pieces, Pikkuw (Saltwater Crocodile) 2008 made from milkwood and Large Crocodile 2008 made from aluminium are on display next to Crocodile 1958 (Unknown Artist) and plainly present the relationship between old and new.

This juxtaposition of the past and contemporary works in different mediums really highlights the way the change in production is being used as a tool for cultural survival. Although these works are missing their original context of the ceremony they are not in anyway lacking any cultural tradition.  They are created as an expression of the artist’s spiritual identity and are strongly embedded in Wik and Kugu culture through the typical Aurukun aesthetic. The art throughout the exhibition is missing the ceremonial context, yet the works still command respect from their audience purely through their cultural heritage.

The exhibition does a fantastic job of presenting the development of cultural practises that have transpired due to the introduction of a westerm culture. This representation also communicates the importance the relationship of old and new works have on the continuation of Aurukun culture. More than just art, the pieces embody the spirit of a community that has constantly had to adapt in order to keep their culture alive. This idea of giving new light to old forms and great way to sum up the direction of the exhibition is best described by Stanley Kalkeeyorta, “the art we make today is the same as the past. It’s like the old testament and the new testament in the Bible – the oldway and the new way, both going in the same direction.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mel Brigg

The exhibition ‘Emotive Moods’ by self taught and internationally acclaimed artist Mel Brigg is an eclectic mix of landscapes, seascapes, still life and portraiture. Simplistic and skilful in his application many of the pieces, while still stunning, are politically charged and thought provoking.

Image - Red Hill Gallery
'The Empty Bowl 2'

These traits in his artworks are seen in his famous ‘Bowl’ and ‘Exodus and Arrival’ series. Although there are quite a number of the large scale ‘Exodus and Arrival’ series there are only two of the ‘Bowl’ series present, the standout being the ‘Empty Bowl 2’. Painted in a style typical of Brigg, from afar the application of the paint provides more dimension and tenacity than the subject matter (which is just an empty bowl and porcupine quill). It is not until the viewer is up close that the political significance of this work is realised. Etched into the paint are the words “Mugabe’s legacy to South Africa, RIP”. Immediately the exhibition seems more than just pretty paintings.

Image: Red Hill Gallery
'The Arrival'
The ‘Exodus and Arrival’series are more a form of self-expression than a political statement. Originally from South Africa the move to Australia left Brigg feeling alienated, which was his inspiration for these series. While all are similarly composed there is something compelling about the works. Inspired by the colours of both countries the large-scale paintings generally depict baron landscapes in vivid colours with a number of small people walking either toward or away (it’s difficult to tell) from the horizon. These miniscule figures are completely dwarfed by their baron surroundings and accurately illustrate Brigg’s feeling of alienation

Another interesting aspect of this series is the repeated motif of a circle around a sole figure. Although the ring looks like the imprint of a rim of a glass, the ring itself is quite mysterious resulting in the age-old question of – what does it mean? Whether it is just a focal point in the painting or a signifier of an alienated figure (possibly Brigg himself?) is left up to the viewer to decide.

A fantastic exhibition, Brigg is a highly talented artist who has the intrinsic ability to accurately depict a range of emotions and moods in his works.

Open until the Sunday the 31st October at The Red Hill Gallery (61 Musgrave Road, Red Hill) http://www.redhillgallery.com.au/


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What's up Brisbane? Qpac Lego Men

So the novelty of Brisbane's torrential rain has well and truly worn off, the thought of sloshing around in rain soaked shoes for another day, that is if you dare to step outside your front door, makes me cringe. So to lighten the mood and save my shoes, take a look at the work of Melbourne based street collective, Cornelius Brown. Cornelius Brown installed  giant crate men on the Qpac building as part of the Brisbane Festival, comprised of milk crates held together with zip ties, the crate men are like the cheeky toys that come alive after the children go to bed.

This story was originally supposed to be an interview, but it didn't really turn out that way, The Cornelius Brown Collective prefer not to theorize extensively about their work, feeling that this would negate meaning away from the art, they prefer to let the images speak for themselves. Usually I, who am a firm believer in there is a theory behind everything, would disagree, but this time I don't.  Who cares who the people behind Cornelius Brown are really? Does that change the meaning or the effectiveness of their artwork? I don't think it does, but regardless let's just look at the images. Enjoy!

Some of Cornelius Browns previous work.....

Crate sphere via corneliusbrn 

Crate men at vic park via corneliusbrn

Help a friend on flinders st via corneliusbrn

Help a friend on flinders st via corneliusbrn 

Block heads via corneliusbrn
All images are by Art Collective unless otherwise stated.

bonne journée


Monday, October 4, 2010

Pieter Hugo at IMA

The Nigerian sun is setting as gravel crunches under the feet of running kids. There is about seven of them, and they somehow manage to squish themselves into the cabin of an abandoned 1950s pickup truck. Someone from the tobacco company throws packs of cigarettes in the air, tonight the kids get a pack too.  They fight amongst themselves over who gets the most. “Shhh”, someone says. “The movie is starting.”

Nollywood is Nigeria’s film industry, much like Hollywood it produces feature films and markets them to the public for entertainment. It is a $250 million a year industry, producing around 1000 movies per year, making it the third largest producer of feature films. However in Nollywood all films are produced and marketed within the space of a week and on a shoe string budget of $15000. Satanic demons, vampires, mummies and magic fill Nollywood films, making their characters the stuff of legends amongst Nigerian children. Nollywood is explored further in the work of South African photographer, Pieter Hugo, through his current exhibition  at The Institute of Modern Art.

Pieter Hugo’s ‘Nollywood’ is a series of photographic portraits taken in the epicentre of Nollywood production, Enugu and Asaba, in southern Nigeria. The images were staged and photographed using a medium-format camera, employing a central composition and are Hugo’s interpretations of iconic myths and symbols, which define Nollywood productions. One of the most successful images is ‘Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh’. They create a macabre image of a Nigerian woman sitting side by side with a devil like creature at a bus stop. The expression the woman wears articulates this is her own demon which she carries inside her.
Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008
The portraits house lone, solitary characters which stare out at the viewer and social groupings which the viewer plays witness to. In ‘Tarry King Ibuzo’ a slouching mummy stares out from a furniture wasteland. ‘Gabazzini  Zuo’ sees a Nigerian man standing triumphantly over a dead cow, he holds its heart in his hands, the blood staining his black suit. Behind him are the remains of other animals, which we conclude met the same fate, possibly eluding to a modern day vanitas. ‘Izunna Onwe and Uju Mbamalu’ portray a vampire and his victim, the obviously fake pink blood still on her neck. Despite their differences the viewer is aware that all these characters are related,  they resemble some sort of apocalyptic circus.

Tarry King Ibuzo. Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Gabazzini Zuo. Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Pieter Hugo himself features in one of the photographs, bringing to mind one of the first breed of contemporary photographers, Cindy Sherman. In this photograph it seems like Hugo is intent on making himself a hero of Nollywood, outfitted in a balaclava and black elbow high rubber gloves, which are reminiscent of Western superheros. However his white bared flesh suggests the  underlying role of the white man in third world social issues.

Pieter Hugo. Enugu, Nigeria, 2009

Like Hugo’s past work which focused on global social issues, especially in Africa and other third world countries, ‘Nollywood’  walks the line between fiction and documentary. Nigerian landscape is visible in the background of the images and the viewer is constantly aware of this. Dilapidating buildings, sparse rural landscapes and Nigerian slums, littered with rubbish peak through each photograph, a reminder of the country’s third world status.

‘Nollywood’ is not subtle, it does not just recreate iconic scenes and characters, it screams them and it is really screaming them. But it is screaming something more as well.  Pieter Hugo's 'Nollywood' is exhibiting at IMA until the 20th of November. www.ima.org.au

All images are from www.pieterhugo.com
bonne journée