Saturday, August 13, 2011

Aboriginal Batik From Central Australia
Art Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

There are just some reference texts that should be in any ArtCloth library. When it comes to street art, “Street Studio” by A. Young, Ghostpatrol and Miso (Thames & Hudson, Melbourne 2010, ABN: 72 004 751 964) will challenge you to do deconstructed Post Graffiti ArtCloth. For textiles, “Bauhaus Textiles” by S.W. Weltge (Thames & Hudson, London, 1993, ISBN 0-500-23658-5) is an extremely informative tome of historical significance. For Art Quilts the compendium: “ Art Quilts – A Celebration”, editors N. Mornu, D. Cusick, K.D. Aimone (Lark Books, New York, 2005, ISBN 1-57990-711-3) is a great resource. Of course, with respect to ArtCloth, most of you would be aware of Jane Dunnewold’s “Art Cloth” (Interweave, Loveland, 2010, ISBN 978-1-59668-195-8). Note: I could have named more than a dozen texts in each category and moreover, in a future blog, I will touch on some technical tomes you may be interested in.

Indigenous art around the world has been discovered, forgotten and then re-discovered again - in an endless cycle. Australian Aboriginal art became the “flavor” over several decades. At present, there are more indigenous artists in Australia then ever before. However, recently the indigenous art has fallen on hard times. This blog site has been very supportive of Australian Aboriginal art on fabric (see earlier blogs - Tjariya Stanley and Tjunkaya Tapaya, 
Ernabella Arts - see link below) and of course ArtCloth from the Tiwi Islands. The reason for our support is simple - it is just great ArtCloth!

Ernabella Arts

There is no better text on aboriginal textiles than Judith Ryan's, “Across the Desert – Aboriginal Batik From Central Australia” (Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2008, ISBN 9780724102990). It is a must buy if you can get it.

Below is an overview of the book. The images in the book are just breathtaking and very detailed. There are a number of excellent essays penned by Hilary Furlong, Diana James, Julia Murray, Felicity Wright, Marina Strocchi, Katie Somerville and Linda Jackson – all of whom were former art coordinators with the Aboriginal communities and all of whom happen to be women! Most of the work covers ArtCloth generated in the areas of South Australia and the Northern Territory. This overview will only give you a glimpse of some of the ArtCloth works in order to whet your appetite and it will contain none of the Wearable Art – the lack of coverage of the latter should further encourage you to purchase the book.

Batiks billowing in the breeze at Ahalper, Utopia Batik Revival Workshop (2007). Photograph courtesy of Julia Murray.

Simply put, batik is a method originally used in Java (Indonesia) to generate colored designs on textiles by dyeing them, having first applied wax (i.e. resist) to the parts to be left un-dyed.

While the Australian Aboriginals have been often referred to as the most isolated of people in the world, they did have contact with the Torres Straight and with New Guinea as well as with some of the Indonesian islands[1]. Surprisingly, as Judith Ryan has pointed out[2], Batik was recently taught to Australian Aboriginals because of contact with non-Aboriginal textile artists and art coordinators. In fact, the oldest aboriginal women art/tribal collective is Ernabella[3] (see an earlier blog on this site - ArtCloth: Engaging New Visions).

Hilary Furlng[3] traces Ernabella’s history and pointed out that Batik was first taught in Ernabella by Leo Brereton in 1971. Leo was a young American, who learnt the technique in Indonesia. He only taught it for a month, since his aboriginal students quickly accelerated to a very sophisticated level, and easily incorporated and adapted the technique into their art practice.

Angkuna Kulyuru, Raiki wara. Batik On Silk (Ernabella).
Size: 112 cm (width) x 296 cm (length).

Generally aboriginal art is a “living art” and is “not art for art sake” and so has some relevance to social living[1]. The mythical or traditional imagery was created for those whom were meant to understand it. This general utilitarian practice led some academics to falsely suggest that their Batik ArtCloth blurred the boundaries between art and craft[2]. As Ryan has correctly asserted there is no such confusion today[2] – it was and will always be - art.

Angkuna Kulyuru, Raiki wara. Batik On Silk (Ernbella).
Size: 118 cm (width) x 214 cm (length).

Central Australian myths are usually divided in accordance to whether men or women hold the ownership of the myths and moreover, to what extent of the other sex’s myth each sex is allowed to know. Myths are generally seen as a framework for values of a society – its social fabric  - based on desires and fears[4]. Diana James[5] traces the Batik lines iin Kaltjiti artists of Fregon – a breakaway group from Ernabella. As she as pointed out[5] these artist’s song and story lines of their culture flows “…directly into the lines of their art”.

Manyinta (Katie) Curley. Raiki wara. Batik on Silk (Fregon).
Size: 91.6 cm x 290 cm (length).

Aboriginals saw themselves and nature as a continuum, mutually dependent and in agreement with each other. They felt most secure in their homeland, because all the landforms there were created by their ancestral beings[6]. Julia Murray documents the Utopia Batik phenomenon[7]. She highlights that the 1979 Land Claim for the pastoral lease of Utopia was successful and that “…Utopia was the first pastoral lease to be converted to aboriginal freehold title”. Their Batik works were considered relevant to their claim as the traditional land caretakers.

Violet Petyarr, Anerlarr (pencil yam). Batik On Silk (Utopia).
Size: 93 cm (width) x 190 cm (length).

Non-literate societies generally lack words for abstract metaphysical concepts and so they tend to express such ideas of nature through myth, rite and symbol[8]. Felicity Wright summarizes the Yuendumu Batiks[9]. She recounts that when Yuendumu Batiks were created the senior women were regularly holding a yawulyu (women’s ceremonies).

Peggy Napurrla Poulson, Wapirti Jukurrpa (Small yam Dreaming). Batik On Cotton (Yuendumu).
Size: 87 cm (width) x 85.4 cm (length).

Aboriginal law is a radical different view of life and it depends for its continuance on the indoctrination and initiation of young Aboriginal men and women into the ways and secrets of its elders. It is therefore fragile, since it is an orally transmitted cultural lore, which in the space of one generation of Christian conversion can be irrevocably lost[6]. Marina Strocchi maps out the trials and tribulations of the Kintore Batiks[10]. Marina notes that Tjunkiya “…strength and resilience in the face of burying her children is aided by her adherence to the Law.”

Tjunkiya Napaltjarri: Untitled. Batik On Cotton.
Size: 112.3 cm (width) x 195 cm (length).

In conclusion, the essays are informative, the 66 images of the artwork brilliant, the Wearable Art stunning and moreover, the ArtCloth is simply great - a must buy!

[1] R.M & C.H. Berndt, The World of the First Australians, Ure Smith, Sydney, 2nd Ed. (1977).

[2] J. Ryan, Across The Desert – Aboriginal Batik from Central Australia, Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2008).

[3] H. Furlong, inbid.

[4] I. M. White in Australian Aboriginal Mythology, ed. L.R. Hiatt, Execlsis Press, Carlton (1975) P123-142.

[5] D. James, Across The Desert – Aboriginal Batik from Central Australia, Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2008).

[6] R. Tonkinson, The Jiglong Mob, The Benjamin/Cummings Publish Company, Sydney (1974).

[7] J. Murray, Across The Desert – Aboriginal Batik from Central Australia, Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2008).

[8] L.R. Hiatt in Australian Aboriginal Mythology, ed. L.R. Hiatt, Execlsis Press, Carlton (1975) P1-23.

[9] F. Wright, Across The Desert – Aboriginal Batik from Central Australia, Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2008)

[10] M. Strocchi, inbid.

1 comment:

Resonant Brain said...

When the earliest forms of Aboriginal Art were found on cave walls, these were little more than a handprint or footprint. But the paintings became more elaborate with time.