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"The Native Born: Objects and Images from Ramingining, Arnhemland"
2001-07-08 until 2001-09-09
Sprengel Museum
Hannover, , DE

Following the exhibition ABORIGINES MEMORIAL in 1999, the Sprengel Museum Hannover is proud to host a second exceptional show of Aboriginal art this summer (July 8 - September 9), in the form of THE NATIVE BORN. The exhibition consists of more than 100 works, both two and three dimensional, and was curated in co-operation with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sidney and Bulabula Arts, of Ramingining, in Arnhemland (Northern Territory).

Djon Mundine, who curated the exhibition, made a strong impression on Hanovers museum-goers, as well as the press, during his memorable guided tours of the show Aboriginal Memorial. Internationally, he is undoubtedly one of the leading figures on both historic and contemporary Aboriginal art. Few are aware that Mundine was active as the Arts and Crafts advisor in Arnhemland, Northern Australia for many years. While in this position, he was responsible for enabling the artistic endeavours of Aborigines to flourish without the disruptive influences of the international art market. The group of works upon which this exhibition was based started life as the Ramingining Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in the early 1980s. It was purchased by the museum in Sidney in 1984 and was the first comprehensive exhibition of contemporary Aboriginal art from a particular geographical region to be shown in an Australian museum. The Ramingining Collection from Arnhemland concentrates on those artists who live in or near two places in Arnhemland: the first come from Arnhemland itself, a small town not established until the mid-1970s. The second group are from Milingimbi island, the first missionary outpost to be set up in the Crocodile islands, in the mid-1920s. Djon Mundines text in the catalogue, which has also been translated into German, is a fascinating guide to the beginnings of such settlements as well as the training and education available to aboriginal artists in that region over the course of the 20th century.

The new and special feature of the Ramingining Collection is, that since 1983, it has functioned as a source of commissions for regional artists. It was indeed through Djon Mundine that Bernice Murphy and Leon Paroissien, the curators in Sidney at the time, gave commissions to the artistic community, suggesting a comprehensive show of artistic work from that area. The exhibition deals with all aspects of Aboriginal life and work, from religious objects to handicrafts, grave monuments, fishing implements, musical instruments, etc. encompassing all elements of life and work as well as important formulations of their mythological tradition. Djon Mundines choice of works reflected the conflict between tradition and modern influences as early as the early 1980s. It is still common to associate contemporary art originating in the third world with historical tradition. Mundine deals extensively with this mystification, showing us the visual culture of Aboriginal Ramingining in a contemporary as well as in an historical context.

Aboriginal art

One of the most important aspects of their work is that Aboriginal artists are able to deal with the dichotomy between the naturalistic and the abstract, as it is refereed to Western, European art theory, blurring the lines. The artist does not copy what he sees; he portrays his subjects in a manner based on mythological and historical traditions of using colour and form and personal interpretation. The artist can use a variety of perspectives of an object, frontal or in profile, from any angle, or using, as is the case in Arnhemland, x-ray vision to examine the inner and outer form of the subject.

Another characteristic of their work is the negation of proper perspective. The golden rule for Aboriginal artists is: an aesthetically balanced composition contains all the aspects of the subject that one experiences relating to the theme. This includes historical, social and political elements as well as ritual and metaphysical aspects and the context in which the work of art is seen. The traditions of Aboriginal art, and they are as numerous as to be described as encyclopaedic, encompass all the dimensions of their complex philosophy, which was the goal of the European avant-garde for more than 100 years (with varying results).

This takes the form of complex arrangements of meaning using hatching or doubling of images, the serial placement of individuals or objects, rhomboid shapes and clan symbols, which are used only by that group, but can be understood by all. The meaning of a rigid grid with extended rhomboid forms in the appropriate context can mean freshwater, mixed with saltwater, or with fire or flames, but it could also portray seaweed, or grass, in motion. One does not, however, require an education in Aboriginal aesthetics to appreciate these works of art. The uninformed eye will recognise graphic systems as refined as those in Klees work next to naturalistic depth, vivid Impressionism next to abstract expressions, colours ranging from the intensity of Fauvism and contrasts together with monumental totems incorporating representational elements (such as snakes, deer, reptiles and rocks) which appear placed as if they were actors on a stage.

The core of Aboriginal art is visibly part of a communication process, not as an object in a formal viewing context. Just as is the case with song and dance, it passes on stories, tradition and identity, in the ontological as well as in the ecological sense.

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