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aboriginal art | John McDonald

aboriginal art

Colony

May 4, 2018
Augustus Earle, 'Portrait of Bungaree, a native of New South Wales', c.1826

If I seem to be constantly writing in praise of the National Gallery of Victoria this isn’t because the grass is always greener interstate. It’s because the NGV has been attending so well to the fundamental business of what a gallery should be doing. Arguably the most important task is to provide a vibrant program … More


Songlines

January 12, 2018
Yarrkalpa (Hunting Ground), a collaborative work by Martu artists

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is a show with a story – one of the oldest ever told in this country. It’s an R-rated tale of seven sisters being pursued by a lustful man who first appears in the Pilbara and follows them across the deserts of Western Australia to the very heart of the … More


Tarnanthi 2017

November 2, 2017
The Kulata Juta project

Constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians is another one of those issues the government would prefer not to think about. Its proponents say it’s a matter of basic human rights but this term has been so weirdly politicised in recent years there are people who interpret a call for rights as opening the door to anarchy. … More


Lore of the Land: Songlines

October 27, 2017
Traditional custodian, Stanley Douglas

Under a blue, cloudless sky the road is one long strip of red earth, hemmed in by expanses of dry, tufty grass and scrub. The dominant colour is a pale yellow-grey, offset with the faintest tinges of green. The major landmark is Mount Conner, a long flat-topped monolith of reddish rock overshadowed by Uluru’s celebrity. … More


Defying Empire

August 9, 2017
Archie Moore, Aboriginal Anarchy (2012)

During the Howard years we were constantly hearing about the Culture Wars – a term borrowed from the United States, pertaining to the battle between conservative and liberal values. In Australia the conflict became fixated on whether this continent had been taken by force from its original inhabitants, and what reparations were due. It was … More


Encounters

February 11, 2016
Mask made from turtle shell plates, Mer, Torres Strait islands. Acquired by an unknown collector before 1855.

‘Civilisation’ is a concept that has changed beyond recognition over the past century. To the pioneering ethnographers of the Victorian era, tribal cultures were merely stages on the way to the civilised state. Viewed as backward, impoverished and superstitious, it was accepted that such communities would wither and die as they fell under the spell … More


Country & Western

November 13, 2015
William Robinson, 'Shaded pool Carnarvon', oil on canvas, 92 x 122cm, 2008, Rockhampton Art Gallery collection

As Country & Western: landscape re-imagined tours Australia, it will leave a trail of disappointed music fans. The title seems to promise some mystical conjunction of landscape painting and Slim Dusty. In reality it’s all landscape. At the S.H.Ervin Gallery there is not even the sound of a guitar twanging in the background. It makes … More


Robert Campbell Jr.

April 18, 2015
Robert Campbell Jnr, 'Giver of Life' (1986). Photograph: Artbank

Artbank, the Australian government’s art rental agency, has been around since 1980. It was an initiative of a Fraser administration returned to power for a third consecutive term that year – a reminder of an era when both sides of politics took an active interest in the arts. By contrast, today’s politicians seem completely devoid … More


Saltwater Country

August 16, 2014
Vernon Ah Kee, wegrewhere #2 2009, type C photograph. Collection: Gold Coast City Gallery Purchased with funds from the Art Gallery Gift Fund, 2012.

‘Country’ is the most fundamental concept in the Aboriginal lexicon, but also the most misunderstood. The indigenous feeling for country is far more spiritual than sentimental. It’s a distinction that’s scarcely comprehensible to those of us who believe identity consists of what we make of ourselves, regardless of our place of origin. The Hollywood version … More


Dark Heart: 2014 Adelaide Biennial

March 15, 2014
Alexander Seton, Soloist, 2012. Bianco carrara marble, 95 x 75 x 70cm. Photo: Per Ericson. Courtesy: the artist and Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney

Before heading south for this year’s Adelaide Biennial I saw Opera Australia’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Pushkin’s famous character is the archetypal ‘dark heart’. Onegin humiliates the young Tatiana, who has confessed her love for him. He plays a nasty joke on his best friend, and keeps going long after he should have stopped. … More