Wednesday, December 22, 2010

‘Desert Heart’ is an artful story

Film reveals the world of Australia’s Bidyadanga artists

“My Country” by Weaver Jack. Acrylic on linen at Harvey Art Projects USA.

In the late 1960s, in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia, a group of Yulparija men and women walked away from their homeland in search of water. The Great Sandy Desert is in the northern part of Western Australia, south of the Kimberley region on the northern coast.

A severe drought coupled with the mining in the nearby Pilbara region drained the underground river systems that fed the water holes. It left the country desolate, and people were dying. These inhabitants had no option but to leave their land.

The Yulparija clan ended up in saltwater country at LeGrange Mission, which is called Bidyadanga Community. It's two hours south of the town of Broome. This is the home of the Karrajarri people who welcomed their desert countrymen and shared their land with them. The Karrajarri gave the Yulparija permission to hunt and use their country as their own.

The exodus triggered a realization that the traditional stories of Yulparija might be lost to their children and grandchildren. A desire to paint and record stories along with their songs became a pressing concern. That gave rise to the Bidyadanga art movement.

< The extraordinary works of the Yulparija artists reflect the contemporary experiences of these people. Their desert iconography is portrayed in the rich blues and reds and greens of the coastal landscape where the artists now live. This contemporary art is drawn completely from traditional experiences.

Since 2002, this art has been exhibited regularly in Australia and overseas. It has been widely collected by important institutions and collectors in Australia and abroad.

The Community Library in Ketchum will have a free screening of the film "Desert Heart" on Tuesday, Dec. 28, at 6 p.m. "Desert Heart" follows the story of artist Daniel Walbidi, who returns to his family's traditional homelands after nearly 40 years in exile.

The film presentation of "Desert Heart" will be followed by a Q&A with visiting guest Emily Rohr, manager of Bidyadanga Artists. An exhibition of works by eight artists from the remote west coast town of Bidyadanga are on view at Harvey Art Projects, 391 First Ave. N. in Ketchum.

Curator Julie Harvey has brought the works to Ketchum. They have never before been shown in the U.S.

"The story of this group of artists is quite extraordinary," Harvey said. "Their culture is relatively unknown."

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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