As Australia celebrates forty years of contemporary desert painting, this work casts new light on the contribution of Aboriginal women to this movement in its mythic, artistic and political dimensions. A selection of over eighty works by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Judy Watson Napangardi, Eubena Nampitjin or Makinti Napanangka from the collection of Arnaud Serval offers insight into a fascinating pictorial heritage unknown to the general public.
The Australian outback is home to a mosaic of peoples who for at least 60,000 years have developed and perfected a way of life in which mankind occupies an intermediary position between the earth and the ancestral forces. In this system, men and women fulfil complementary functions: each individual is owner or co-owner of one or more sacred sites over which they exercise a ritual authority aiming to maintain the natural balance. Unlike the men who used regularly to depict great dream journeys, the paintings women produced would often limit themselves to the description of a particular site, painted in all its complexity. From the start of their painting movement, an agreement was made with men to obtain permission to use the dot motif, generally reserved for male ceremonies. The women then developed a remarkable technique, using smaller dots, by multiplying the semicircles and inventing new combinations of colours. A veritable artistic fever swept through the Australian outback at the start of the 1990s. Several leading women artists soon began to emerge. In 1997, Emily Kame Kngwarreye Judy Watson and Yvonne Koolmatrie were selected to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale. In art centres, women are now in the majority and little by little are revealing a change in paradigm: riding the wave of their political, artistic and economic success, the women of the outback seem to be taking the reins of the destiny of their communities in hand with the same assurance as has enabled them to transform the history of Australian art.
The catalogue accompanies an exhibition at the Carry On Gallery I on Art Aborigène, Geneva, Switzerland from March 9th to May 10th 2012
Author: Françoise Dussart, Barbara Glowczewski, Arnaud Morvan, Georges Petitjean