Saturday, January 31, 2015

Expressing Australia – Art in Parliament House[1]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The 26th of January is a holiday in Australia. It is called “Australia Day”, marking the date in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales and for the first time raised the British flag in Sydney Cove. In the early 1880’s the day was known as “First Landing”, “Anniversary Day” or “Foundation Day”. In 1946 the Commonwealth and State governments agreed to unify the celebrations on 26th January and call it “Australia Day”. The day became a public holiday in 1818 (on its 30th anniversary).

“The founding of Australia” (in itself a provocative title since it ignores the presence of the first peoples).
(State Library of Victoria, H8731, color reproduction of painting in the Tate Gallery by Algernon Talmage).

Since 1994 all States and Territories (Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory) celebrate Australia Day together on that actual day. On this day ceremonies welcome new citizens or honor people who have done a great service to the country. Generally, the public celebrate the day with BBQs hosting family and friends, and more formally, there are organized contests, parades, performances, fireworks etc.

Bankstown City Council Citizenship Ceremony.
Australia Day 2012.

National Australia Day Council, which was founded in 1979, views Australia Day as “… a day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation,” and a “day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the generations to come”.

To many of the first peoples of this land - the Australian Aboriginals - there is little to celebrate on that day since it reminds them of a deep loss; the loss of their sovereign rights to their land, loss of family, loss of the right to practice their culture.

Australians protesting against celebrating “Australia Day”.

“Australia Day is 26th January, a date whose only significance is to mark the coming to Australia of the white people in 1788. It’s not a date that is particularly pleasing for Aborigines,” says Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell. “The British were armed to the teeth and from the moment they stepped foot on our country, the slaughter and dispossession of Aborigines began.”

Michael Mansell.

Aboriginal people call it “Invasion Day”, “Day of Mourning”, “Survival Day” or, since 2006, “Aboriginal Sovereignty Day”. The latter name reflects that all Aboriginal nations are sovereign and should be united in the continuous fight for their rights.

Mansell believes that Australia celebrates “…the coming of one race at the expense of another. Australia is the only country that relies on the arrival of Europeans on its shores as being so significant it should herald the official national day,” he says. “The USA does not choose the arrival of Christopher Columbus as the date for its national day. Like many other countries its national day marks independence.”

To many of the first peoples and to the latter-day arrivals, a more fitting day on which to celebrate a united (not divided) Australia that has a unique shared experience, would be to celebrate the 1st February as Australia Day. On this day in 1901 six Australian States (New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria) federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia, making it independent of the United Kingdom. Sadly, this most important “independence day” is barely acknowledged and celebrated around the country. This post serves to commemorate and celebrate this date rather than the 26th of January.

Federal Parliament House in Canberra.

Art in the Federal Parliament House (Canberra, Australia)
Construction of the permanent Australian Federal Parliament house began in 1980. Previously the Federal Parliament was housed in Victoria; that is, from 1901 to 1927 Parliament House in Melbourne was the seat of the Federal Parliament of Australia. Due to the intervention of events such as World War I the provisional Parliament House (now called “Old Parliament House”) was not completed until 1927. Old Parliament House opened in 1927 and served as the home of Federal Parliament until 1988.

On 26 June 1980 the international architectural competition for the “new” Parliament House was won by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects, with the construction managed by the Parliament House Construction authority. Parliament House was opened on the 9thj May 1988 and occupied by parliament for the first sittings in August of that year.

Forecourt of Parliament House with Michael Tjakamarra Nelson's pavement mosaic in the foreground.
A central part of the architecture was the extensive programs of works of art and craft commissioned and purchased by the Parliament House Construction authority.

This post mostly concentrates on textile art and prints on paper which is only a small aspect of art and craft items housed in the (Federal) Parliament House (Canberra, Australia) and so is just a vignette of the plethora of artworks that is spread throughout the galleries, suites, rooms, corridors, offices and the houses of parliament. To get a far more comprehensive insight of what can be viewed, the book – Art in Parliament House - is great source.

Designer: Michael Tjakamarra Nelson.
Place: Forecourt of Parliament House.
Fabricators: W. McInntosh, A. Rossi and F. Colusso. Technique: Moasic pavement of granite and mortar.
Comment: Designed for the forecourt mosaic, the work derives from the traditional sand paintings of the Warlpiri people in the central Australian desert. It depicts a gathering of men from many different groups of the kangaroo, wallaby, and goanna ancestors, congregating to talk and enact important ceremonial obligations. The painting has complex layers of mythological meanings known only to the Walpiri elders.

Artist: Arthur Boyd. Untitled (detailed view of one section of the tapestry).
Fabricator: Australian Tapestry Workshop.
Place: Great Hall.
Interpretation: Leonie Bessant.
Weavers: Leonie Bessant, Sue Carstairs, Irene Creedon, Robyn Daw, Owen Hammond, Kate Hutchinson, Pam Joyce, Peta Meredith, Robyn Mountcastle, Joy Smith, Jennifer Sharp, Irja West.
Technique: Tapestry. Wool, mercerized cotton and linen weft on seine warp.
Size: 9.18 x 19.90 meters.
Comment: This untitled work oil on canvas was the basis for the Great Hall Tapestry (Australian Tapestry Workshop). The evocation of “land” is central to the Australian psyche. The Australian forested landscape, is dense not because of the thickness of the trees and their foliage, but rather because of the thinness of trunk and foliage and their parallel straightness offers a far compactness of experience. Moreover, their appearance is not divorced from the leanness of the first peoples.

Designer: Kay Lawrance.
Details from the final stages of the Parliament House embroidery before assembly. The assembled work, 16 meters long, is displayed on the first floor gallery of the Great Hall. Fabricators: Members of the Embroiderers’ Guild of Australia.
Place: Great Hall.
Technique: Embroidery. Wool, cotton, synthetic fiber on linen.
Comment: The work was proposed by the Embroiderers’ Guild of Australia as a Bicentennial gift to the nation of their time and craft skills.

Lawrance’s design is a historical tableau of the Australian continent, depicting, in an inter-related series of panels, scenes commemorating the long Aboriginal tradition as well as the settlement and exploration of the land by Europeans, culminating in the contemporary reality of rural and urban life.

The individual contributions of more than 500 embroiderers from all part of Australia were carefully coordinated and assembled in Canberra.

The embroidery, some 16 meters long, retains the free-flowing line and subtle gradations of tone from Lawrance’s design, with its strength of composition and delicate rendering in pencil and water color.

Artist: Sally Robinson. Title: Kakadu.
Place: Committee Room.
Technique: Screen print in five parts.
Size: Each part: 110 x 59.8 cm.
Comment: Parliament in committee performs painstaking tasks such as refining legislation and conducting enquiries. The theme for the artworks in these rooms and in the joining corridors reflects artworks that employ the tools of an industrial society. Hence, Sally Robinson’s work utilizes such tools but does so in depicting the flora and fauna of modern day Kakadu.

Artist: Toni Robertson. Title: Economic Landscape No. 3. The marginlisation of Aboriginal people.
Place: Committee Room.
Technique: Screen print. One of a tryptich.
Size: 104 x 73 cm.
Comment: In her silk screen series – Economic Landscape - Toni Roberston juxtaposes the actions of government with a reality of the consequences of parliamentary action (or lack thereof) experienced by peoples stripped of power.

A number of hand woven rugs adorn the floors of Parliament House. Each gives a distinctive Australian ground coverings.

Designer: Lesley Dumbrell. Title: Terrazo
Place: Prime Minister’s suite rug.
Technique: Wool weft.

Designers: Liz Nettleton & Alun Leach-Jones. Title: Music of Colors.
Place: Library rug.
Technique: Wool weft on cotton seine warp.

Designers: Lise Cruickshank & Liz Nettleton. Three hand-woven rugs.
Place: Curve Wall Circulation Area.<
Technique: Wool weft on cotton, seine warp.

Hence, my vote for Australia Day would be the 1st February. It would unite all Australians rather than to divide them!

[1] Expressing Australia – Art in Parliament House.

1 comment:

Eva Elizabeth said...

Well I know Australia is famous for Aboriginal Art paintings. Great blog, and wonderful paintings you have shared here. I have read this article completely and I loved it. Everything is shared here so beautifully that everyone can understand it easily. I love the theme of the art work of rooms which is shown in paintings.