A number of contemporary Aboriginal artists from Australia’s vast Central Desert region honor their ancestors as well as their historical ties to land Down Under through the creation of what are called “Dreamings.”
Set on big broad canvases, these stunning paintings present dynamic and often complex visual narratives touching on themes of creation and life, and conflict and community, fusing elements of mysticism with territorial claims and antecedents.
Six acrylic-on-canvas Dreamings are currently on display and available for sale at the Amy Kaslow Gallery in Upper Northwest. While they may look like examples of abstract art to non-Aboriginal viewing outsiders, as the exhibition puts it, “Dreamings serve as aerial mappings of the past, present, and future.
This documentation of historical connections to land is essential to Aboriginal survival. Their language does not use the written word; instead they use vivid, detailed imagery to convey, record, and pass along their sacred stories.”
Furthermore, the gallery instructs visitors to look from two vantage points: “Enjoy a close up, then a distanced look at these topographical works of ancestral Aboriginal ground.”
The display includes four striking canvases from Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi. Cited as Australia’s top contemporary artist, and whose father is considered the founder of the Central Desert’s modern art movement, Nungurrayi is best known for her series of Dreamings called Grandmother’s Country, in which vibrant symbols pop from black backgrounds, lines demarcate inbound and outbound paths of omnipresent ancestors, and a colorful bounty of gathered foodstuff native to Australia (yams, berries, waterholes) is depicted through “mesmerizing dots, lines, curves, squiggles, and more.”
Also represented is Khatija Possum Nampijinpa with her Dreaming Salt Water Lake, in which “arrays of alternating black and white dots sculpt organic shapes, and flow into each other across the canvas, [and] swift lines briefly cut across the speckled expanse, showing us a sea in movement.”
A third artist, Nellie Marks Nakamara, a member of the Pintupi clan, mentored by her father and other founders of the Papunya Tula art movement, is known for intricate yet space-filled paintings such as Women’s Ceremony.
Here, Nakamara marks the presence of Tingari, the ancestral beings who created the land and the law, through parallel circles, filled with dots of beige, rose, and white, while stippled lines forming linear shapes across the canvas portray the women’s journey to and from sacred sites.
On display throughout February. Amy Kaslow Gallery is at The Shops in Spring Valley (behind Crate & Barrel), 4300 Fordham Rd. NW. Open daily from noon to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays and open Wednesdays by appointment only. Visit www.amykaslowgallery.com.
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