How can it be Thursday already and I haven’t written here since last Friday?
I have been busy freelancing for money, and that’s not a bad thing, every article stretches me, and dealing with some family crises (in another state).
One thing I have been researching and writing about this week involves some amazing intricate paintings created by Walpiri (a tribe) artists from the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association (WAAA) in tiny Yuendumu, Central Australia. A company in Australia is selling some of their paintings and needed me to write a background piece. It was a fascinating study in an unfamiliar spirituality. Not surprisingly, “BC” in native vocabulary, refers to “Before Colonization.
“I am borrowing a picture from their facebook page (which is really full of information and art) to share with you directly. This is a layered painting on canvas, in acrylic paint. The artists combine layers of lines, shapes and “marks” to paint a spiritually relevant story of an event, a sacred site or set of interconnected paths, a power-animal, etc. Traditionally select elders traced the images in compacted sand in patterns and designs for ceremonies celebrated over the thousands of years. It is still true that only specific people have the “right” to paint any particular Jukurrpa, or design. This leads often to many artists working collectively to tell the story (in paint) and work out designs within the stories, not to tread on one another’s rights. Many artists have also however become famous for their individual work. Paintings come with elaborate explanations of the story being painted.
Here is the back story of the paintings in shorthand. The Australian aboriginal tribes were just allowed access to their ancestral lands in the 1980’s, and since that time their beautiful “Desert Art” has been a major source of income. It started when the elders of the Walpiri tribe became alarmed at the angry and disrespectful behavior of the children in their school. They brought together a spiritual collective, selected 5 representatives to paint 30 schoolhouse doors with the Jukurrpa, or ancestral teachings. They wanted their children to follow the traditional ways. A white historian later visited the village, wanted to preserve the doors, known collectively as the “Yuendumdu Doors,” which were restored and are now in a museum. The doors received international acclaim, and the world became interested in their Desert Art. If you Google “Australian aboriginal desert art, painted doors, images,” you will find a fascinating collection of their work.
The Walpiri are very much rooted in the land, and believe that Creator-Beings roamed the land creating everything in the visible and invisible universe, and certain sites along the paths they traveled are sacred to them. Their wanderings created maps of interconnecting spiritually-embued pathways and connection points, which help define the sacred sites. Westerners call the paintings”dreamings,” to reflect the process whereby the artist receives direction to paint, but it misses the nuance of the complex spiritual belief system, moral code and familial lineage codes they live by and which can be communicated with design and color. Beyond a representation, the piece of art constitutes and embodiment of the belief system held by many Australian tribes, and the ancestor is said to indwell the traditional work.
Towards the end of my research, I discovered they have a facebook page, and I hope you go over and look at some of their artwork and read some of their fascinating history.
The artisan collective has come into the 21st century though! They sell hand-woven and -dyed fabrics, lovely clothing, hand-woven rugs, some ceramics and they are even advertising iphone 5 covers – COMING SOON, they say. They look beautiful, and anything you buy benefits the tribe.
These artists are very open to visitors and even accept volunteer interns who want to learn their way of life. Internships can last anywhere from a week to a year, in support positions, such as keeping the area clean, mixing paints and the like. The tribe provides room and board, but no stipend.