feature Indigenous australian art associated with the storm. The artist’s compositions are for the most part bald, spare and uncompromising, yet never awkward, and are possessed with a totality of one who resides in the land and is of the land, like a physical sign or gesture, or a piece of calligraphy. The force of the storm is invoked through the single dynamic sweep of the red-ochre circling lines, like an organism expanding exponentially across the canvas. Dreamtime Story of the Willy Willy contains a sensibility of design and surface texture, an inner life, a vital rhythm in the drawing that is algorithmic.
Another expansive assertion of gestural freedom and entanglement is Emily Kam Kngwarray’s Anwerlarr Anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming) (1995; Fig. 4), a vast three by eight-metre canvas, accomplished in a single, continuous stroke. It is an organic design that references the veins, sinews and contours of Alhalker, the artist’s birth country. Embracing the monumental surface, Kngwarray’s holistic vision is sustained in all of the minute sections, through contrasting rhythms: angular, meandering long stretches, short jabs of tension, energetic rushes and volatile lines. The hypnotic effect of white on black prevails upon the viewer to acknowledge only its graphic elements and its inner properties of drawing. Anwerlarr Anganenty is determined by its visual components: virtually no narrative accompanies the work. Kngwarray, a mark maker extraordinaire working alternatively in different combinations of dots and lines, effected a revolution in that her work resisted any kind of map making, diagram or landscape.
Kngwarray’s rise to prominence was also the catalyst for the emergence of Indigenous women as artists of consequence during the late 1980s and 90s. Now, in the farthest reaches of the Far Western Desert and in North Queensland, Indigenous art is one of increasingly few contemporary art movements unapologetically engaged with paint, and the iridescence and fearlessness of colour, and whose most intrepid practitioners are women. Works such as Nora Wompi’s Kunawarritji (Well 33) (2009; Fig. 3) confirm that ‘this is
an art that, forty years after its eruption into the art world, has become the most vibrant, dynamic and living art of the present, [and that makes] other forms of painting look [timid] by comparison’.7
The NGV’s Indigenous collection attests to the artists’ commitment to cherishing, stewarding and perpetuating their culture despite a history of dispossession. It also subverts the stereotypical expectation that ‘real’ Indigenous art only comes from ‘remote outback’ Australia, and gives an important presence to eloquent artists such as Jonathan Jones, Julie Gough, Christian Thompson and Vernon Ah Kee. They use modern materials and digital media, and reference the international language of art to express the politics of their identity or to comment on issues of universal concern. For artists living in the most densely populated coastal regions of Australia, where original Indigenous languages are no longer spoken due to the long-term presence of a foreign power, the greatest challenge is to find a personal artistic language and master a modern medium. Yhonnie Scarce chooses to work in blown glass, Dennis Nona in mammoth linocuts, etchings and cast bronze sculptures, whereas Jones works with currents of fluid and dancing light as a metaphor of living culture.
Jonathan Jones’ untitled (muyan) (2011; Fig. 5) is one of three works commissioned by the Felton Bequest to honour William Barak (1824–1903), the first Aboriginal artist of renown. Jones has accelerated his practice and transcended his earlier light assemblages in this pristine and seamless installation. Using materials that enervate a modern industrial streetscape, five LED light boxes perform and recollect with zigzags, verticals and diamonds – all metaphors of Wurundjeri sacred body marks – metamorphosed and
40 apollo july/august 2011