Friday, December 23, 2011

Aboriginal treasures

Artist, art and ceremony from Australia coming to valley


By JENNIFER LIEBRUM
Express Staff Writer

Nawurapu Wunungmurra, Mokoy Spirit Figures will be shown in Ketchum at Harvey Art Projects. Courtesy photo

Art as a cultural exchange will be among the Christmas offerings next week as Harvey Art Projects Gallery presents "Barrku: Treasures From a Distant Land."

The gallery at 391 First Ave. N. in Ketchum is a dedicated Australian indigenous art space, one of a few in the United States. This will be the first-ever exhibit of art on bark from a remote art center in the tiny township of Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land in Australia.

"Barrku" has two meanings—far away and something of excellence.

This exhibit of barks, "mokoys" (spirit figures) and "larrikitj" (ceremonial poles) has been almost two years in preparation, and artist Wukun Wanambi and Harvey art adviser Kade MacDonald will be travelling from Australia for both the official opening and to host a community cultural events program that starts Thursday, Dec. 29, at the Community Library in Ketchum. 

Four short films will begin Thursday at 6 p.m., followed by comments by Wanambi and MacDonald, who elaborate on the art and culture of the Yolngu people.

During Friday's Gallery Walk, the exhibit will officially kick off with a traditional ceremony incorporating music and song by Wanambi at 6.30 p.m. at the gallery.

The Buku-Larrngay Mulka art center at Yirrkala was established in 1975 and artists working with the center have won many major awards, including five in a row in the late 1990s for bark painting. According to a press release from curator Julie Harvey, "buku larrngay" in Yolngu means "the first rays of the sun on your face at sunrise" and "mulka" means "to hold or protect." According to the press release, the elders and artists who control the center have a long history of using their art to influence and challenge colonial mainstream forces that have sought to marginalize them. Most famously, in 1963, artists sent a petition on bark to Parliament House in Canberra to protest against mining on their traditional lands.

By the mid 1980s, they were the first Aboriginal group to successfully win a high court challenge to have their lands returned to them as traditional owners. This set a major precedent for other indigenous groups to file successful land title claims.

Yirrkala was perhaps the earliest community in Arhemland to embrace the production of art for these reasons. Yirrkala artists have maintained a strong discipline in their art—using only natural materials and following ancestral designs rigorously.

Wukun Wanambi is the oldest son of Mithili Wanambi, clan leader and renowned painter who passed away in 1981. Wukun learned the sacred designs of his father from elders who had kept the information in trust for him. His first painting was a depiction of Bamurrunu, a sacred, white-domed rock in the middle of Trial Bay. It was the first time the motif had been painted since his father's death.

For more, visit www.harveyartprojects.com.

Barrku events

Where: Harvey Art Projects, 391 First Ave. N., Ketchum

What and when: Thursday, Dec. 29, at 6 p.m., "A Yolgnu World," short films and talk at Community Library.

Friday, Dec. 30, at 6: 30 p.m., Yolgnu ceremonial opening" by Wukun Wanambi, singing and playing the Ydidki at the gallery.

Saturday, Dec. 31, at 10:30 a.m., artist chat with Wanambi at the gallery.




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