Saturday, January 23, 2010

Australian desert aborigines exhibiting gift for abstract art about their close ties to their land

By Nancy T. Lu
Lines, dots and colors lend themselves to interesting modern abstract art at the “Balgo” exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Beneath the simplicity of the art style, however, lies the richness of Australian aboriginal art idiom. Elements which combine to create art beautiful enough to hang on walls of homes and offices offer fascinating narratives of indigenous culture and life of a people with deep ties to the land.

"Balgo” sounds like the name of an artist. In truth, Balgo Hills refers to a western Australian desert region regarded as the second birthplace of contemporary aboriginal art. Discovered in the 1980s, it is home to gifted artists with a living painting tradition. The artists use modern materials and techniques to create abstract art about an ancestral culture.

Art Bank, the biggest collector and lender of contemporary Australian paintings since 1980, has an ever-growing collection of Australian contemporary art and aboriginal art is well represented. Art Bank has organized the touring “Balgo” exhibition, said Richard Matthews, deputy representative of the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei, at a preview of the show.

Seventy-seven-year-old Susie Bootja Bootja’s “Kaningarra, down the Canning Stock Route” finds art inspiration in the rocky cave of the painter's birthplace. The artist born in the bush covers canvas with dots to suggest bush onions and black shapes to represent bush carrots.

Meanwhile Miriam Baasjo paints an area believed to have been formed by women’s tears. Rocks here are said to have healing power.

Water is important to life in the desert. The soak, a depression in the ground, is where water exists. Sixty-two-year-old Helicopter Tjungurrayi devotes “Warrwiya Soak, Near Jupiter Well” to a large soakage belonging to his tribe.

“Balgo” opened with genuine Australian aboriginal dancers performing for guests on January 22. The collection of 26 works will be on view on the third floor of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum until February 21.

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