LIFELINES: INDIGENOUS CONTEMPORARY ART FROM AUSTRALIA
Musée de la civilisation, Québec City, October 21, 2015, to September 5, 2016
Lifelines: Indigenous Contemporary Art from Australia presents a groundbreaking selection of contemporary works by Indigenous artists from Australia at Québec City's Musée de la civilisation from October 21, 2015, to September 5, 2016. It constitutes the first major Canadian exhibition of its kind.
The Indigenous peoples of Australia carry on a continuous dialogue with the world and their environment. Their art touches on dimensions of politics and identity—their contemporary works attesting to the vitality of their cultures and histories. These creations constitute one of the great artistic currents of the 20th and 21st centuries. The works selected are rooted in ancestral stories, relationships with the earth, and multiple histories of dispossession, calling out to us with their beauty, originality, and vividness as well as what they have to say both culturally and politically.
Lifelines' vibrant, kaleidoscopic collection comprises close to 100 major pieces. They are drawn from the holdings of the University of Virginia's Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum (58 works) augmented with others from private collections, U.S. and Canadian institutions, and a handful from Australian institutions and artists. The generosity of these lenders has made this truly remarkable assemblage of works possible.
"Lifelines offers us a fascinating account of the culture of the Indigenous people of Australia," declared Hélène David, minister of Culture and Communications and minister responsible for the Protection and Promotion of the French Language. "It attests to the immense cultural wealth of these peoples and reminds us of the importance of supporting this heritage that dates back so many millennia. It also clearly highlights a very moving truth—that art and culture are powerful factors of resilience. These remarkably profound works tell us that age-old wisdom, identity, and dignity are reborn through creative expression."
Building bridges between cultures
"Building bridges between cultures remains a core objective of Les Musées de la civilisation programming," said executive director Stéphan La Roche. "Lifelines uses the symbolic vocabulary of these amazing creations to help us explore a different way of seeing the world. When we consider these works and what they tell us, it is hard not to see a parallel between the aspirations and questions of identity faced by First Peoples in Australia and those of Aboriginal nations in Québec. Lifelines invites its visitors to go further in their understanding of our world."
Cultural diversity and artistic strength
For guest curator Professor Françoise Dussart, Lifelines "attests to the cultural diversity and artistic power of Indigenous people in Australia. Here we abandon temporal linearity to explore the past, present, and future tied to ancestral stories as well as to trajectories of identity. The selected works express relationships with the earth, the ancestors, and the world in general. With these contemporary creations, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders make their culture live. For me, these works are anchors, footprints, and stories through which we catch a glimpse of other ways of grasping the world."
Indigenous art in Australia
No one disputes the status of Indigenous artists in Australia today. Since the 1950s their bark paintings, followed by acrylics, sculpture, photography, lithography, and weaving have fired the imagination of collectors all over the world. Lifelines pays tribute to the artists and their families by attending to their visions of the world and their unwavering desire to pursue dialogue through art despite the ups and downs of their daily lives. In defiance of an often painful colonial history, the Indigenous people of Australia refuse to give up, continuing to command our attention with their art and vitality. The works shown here barely scratch the surface of the profuse variety of contemporary work by Indigenous artists—men and women, young and old—living anywhere from remote regions and rural areas to towns and big cities.
Lifelines steps away from the conventional organization of works by geographical origin to allow history, diversity, and creativity to emerge dynamically out of three thematic zones: "Lands of Dreams," "Lands of Knowledge," and "Lands of Power." Each explores the aesthetics of these other ways of seeing the world and allows the artists and works to speak for themselves.
"Lands of Dreams"
Art has been a driving force in the lives of Indigenous people in Australia for over 60,000 years. Through it they tell the stories of their ancestors—their connection to the land and the beings that live on it as well as their personal and family stories. The earliest works by the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders may have been rock art and ephemera such as sand art or body painting for ceremonies. Over time, creations have become increasingly diverse and have incorporated new media.
Works may be painted directly on the ground and render a vision of the world as if seen from the sky. Karrku Jukurrpa (Mount Stanley Dreaming ) is a giant collective canvas by 36 artists—an aerial view of a giant red-ochre mine crossed and crisscrossed by numerous pathways of Ancestral Beings. Another of its themes is the system that links artists to a specific place and kinship networks.
In Djang'kawu Sisters' Waterholes at Gariyak, the Djang'kawu Sisters—Ancestral Women—are represented by linked geometric motifs that map out where they have passed. Budgerigar Dreaming's flock of multi-hued parakeets contrasts with the blue of the sky, brimming with hidden meanings. One Way shows the ancestral spirits of the artist's family forming a bridge between past and present.
"Lands of Knowledge"
All things move; all things collide. Fire, water, the sky, the earth—the four elements—are all part of Dreamtime. The art of the Indigenous people of Australia reflects the wealth of cultural, environmental, and geographical knowledge they possess. The stories revealed by the Ancestral Beings speak of an intimate connection to the land, of relationships with the seasonal cycle and spiritual identities. For millennia these peoples lived as hunter-gatherers on what the land provided. For all the trauma of colonialism, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have retained their strong sense of being responsible for and belonging to the land, which many prefer to call "the country."
Fire and water simultaneously represent life, death, and regeneration. Bushfire Dreaming at Warlukurlangu crosses the territory of different cultural groups. The story is told at various locations over an area spanning 2,000 km. Fire and Water meet, completing one another in their very clash. The Ancestral Smoke creates Stormclouds, which are transformed into the Ancestral Storm that physically and spiritually replenishes the waterholes in Pirlinyanu (Water Dreaming). People's concern for the wellbeing of the environment is reflected in works created out of beach refuse and discarded fishing nets, such as Looking Forward, Looking Back and Minh Permin (Sea Turtle).
"Lands of Power"
In every corner of Australia, Indigenous peoples are taking back control of their histories. Their works speak of cultures, memories, suffering, knowledge, and pride. Through their art, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders are standing up for who they are and for their political aspirations. Looking to the past is a way for them to express their determination to help communities rebuild in a climate of respect for difference and by turning toward the future. They share their knowledge with younger generations as a bulwark of cultural resistance. The art of Indigenous people in Australia has opened up the possibility of dialogue on a global scale. It has given them a powerful voice, after too long a silence.
The installations Salt in the Wound and Cantchant (Wegrewhere) intensely evoke the violence of the past and the way Indigenous artists are re-examining it today. Black Velvet shines a light on the abuse suffered by Indigenous women at the hands of the colonials. My Brother's Keeper evokes life in residential schools, and The Day We Went Away looks at the kidnapping of those thousands of children who constitute the "stolen generations." Cultural contact with Christianity is considered in The Holy Trinity and Creation. For all the scars left by colonialism, Indigenous people in Australia continue to dream of a coexistence that respects differences. The last word of Lifelines goes to Barmah nurrtja biganga (Barmah Forest Possum−Skin Cloak), which illustrates their work to build such a world and the resilience they have shown.
A set that inspires
The works of Lifelines are displayed in an open space that evokes the vastness of Australia with its earth tones, vegetation, and near-uninterrupted blue skies. Two interactive stations highlight particular details and explain the themes and ancestral voyages that make up the immense, collectively created Karrku Jukurrpa. Three screens are seamlessly blended into their surroundings and provide background on the situation of Indigenous people in contemporary Australia. These creative video montages take a documentary and artistic look at a human presence that dates back millennia.d'interpréter des thèmes et des itinéraires ancestraux présents dans l'immense œuvre
A special circuit has been developed for families, and a magnificently illustrated book of the same title as the exhibition is being published to round out the themes under consideration.
Two related exhibits can be viewed from outside in the Museum's display windows. The first features sculpture by Indigenous artists from Australia based on their grave posts. The second, entitled Là où le rêve porte (The Place Where Dreams Take You) features paintings and sculpture by Abenaki–Wendat artist Christine Sioui-Wawanoloath.
Les Musées de la civilisation is marking the opening of Lifelines: Indigenous Contemporary Art from Australia with a workshop entitled "Aboriginal Creativity and Museology: A Dialogue Between Aboriginal Curators and Artists from Australia and Québec." Participants will get to meet others in the field, take part in professional development, and look at hands-on approaches pioneered by art museums, Indigenous museums, cultural organizations, and others.
Experience the beauty and profundity of the art of the Aborigines of Australia and Torres Strait Islanders. Lifelines: Indigenous Contemporary Art from Australia is at Musée de la civilisation in Québec City from October 21, 2015, to September 5, 2016. A Musée de la civilisation production in collaboration with the University of Virginia's Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection. Alcoa is a partner in all Musée de la civilisation programming.
Françoise Dussart, Professor of Anthropology (University of Connecticut), Guest Curator and Curator of Lifelines: Indigenous Contemporary Art from Australia.
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