Going back through material collected from a trip in 2010 to the tropical north for the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, continues to provide a wealth of information on the dynamic indigenous art scene. Getting out into the environment heighted the appreciation of the art from the region, with time for day trips to the Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation where the rainforest meets the reef. The national park, founded in 1981, is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Site, achieved after a long environmental campaign in the 1980s.
Despite all the road sign warnings, there were no sightings of the elusive cassowary (aka emu in a party hat). Migaloo the white whale didn’t make an appearance either, the whale cruises up and down the east coast, winters in the tropics and summers in Antarctica.
Held annually, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair includes works from across Queensland and the Torres Strait. Indigenous Australian art has a long lineage. A recent archaeological dig now puts occupation at over 65,000 years in northern Australia at the Madjedbebe camp site.1 Contemporary indigenous art emerged in the 1970s2. Today many works feature pointillism combined with aerial perspective, intense colours, particularly those from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of South Australia which dominate the current art scene3, reclaiming country through art. This year marks a ‘radical change’4 in the Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, for first time it includes a large number of paintings by the APY artists, and its about time.
In comparison with the central desert (sacred designs), Arnhem Land (bark paintings), and APY paintings, the works from Cape York feature lyrical abstraction, action painting, are gestural, atmospheric with mood and emotion, the ‘Sand beach’ people where art and culture reflect deep understanding of the environment and its seasonal moods.’5 A style dealing with what is important to the community today. Some of the artists from Cape York and works below.
From the Lockhart River area (850 kilometres north of Cairns) 5:
Samantha Hobson scenes of fire, flying over the reef, and the beach at night.
Rosella Namok rain series, psychological impact, mood, atmosphere, ‘metaphysical aspect (conceptual not visual aspects of a subject but understanding and knowledge of it)’, personal experience, understanding of place.
Fiona Omeenyo free flowing line, expressionist figurative compositions, ancestral figures and kin relationships, coastal imagery past and present, Quinkan rock art iconography.
Judy Watson from northwest Queensland. Themes of political invisibility, dislocation, cultural memory, politics of place. Pigment soaked canvasses, works intuitively through listening to oral histories, travelling into country, and research of official records.
Sense of Place
1 Buried tools and pigments tell a new history of humans in Australia for 65,000 years, The Conversation 20 July 2017
2 How the Men’s Painting Room at Papunya transformed Australian art, John Kean, The Conversation 30 June 2017
3 Why the remote APY Lands dominate the Australian art scene, ABC RN by Georgia Moodie for ABC Books and Arts
4A delightfully playful portrait, a historic moment for landscape painting, Joanna Mendelssohn, The Conversation 29 July 2017
5 Our Way Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Lockhart River, Sally Butler 2007