Balgo Hills art: Indigenous Australian art by renowned masters in rare tour through Asia

CONTEMPORARY INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIAN ART

Bright colors and mythical subjects in 26 works of internationally-renowned Balgo-style Australian desert art on tour in Asia: information about the show and a primer on the Balgo art genre

The exhibition

Balgo: Contemporary Australian Art from the Balgo Hills is an internationally touring exhibition of significant works from Australia’s Artbank collection.

The exhibition shows 26 works by a small community of Indigenous Australians from the Balgo Hills, a desert area in the northeast of Western Australia.

An important and highly respected range of prints by senior Balgo artists sits alongside a collection of works by emerging artists from the region.

Kathleen Paddoon, Nakarra Nakarra, etching on paper, 64 x 39 cm, 2005

image courtesy of TFAM

Balgo Hills

Priests of the German Catholic Pallottine Order established Balgo as a refuge mission in 1939. Unusually, the priests and nuns of the mission encouraged the Indigenous Australians to use their local language and customs, keeping traditional culture alive. The mission moved to the Balgo Hills area, where the community lives today, in 1965.

At Balgo Hills, different language groups were brought together as one community, and the community is collectively known as Kutjungka, meaning “being of one culture”. This mix of language and tradition has heavily influenced the Balgo artworks we see today.

Paintings from the Balgo Hills were first introduced to the world in the 1980s. An adult education centre was built in the community in 1981. Works produced here were shown at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 1986, in the pivotal exhibition Art from the Great Sandy Desert. The success of this significant exhibition lead to the establishment of the Warlayirti Artists Corporation in 1987.

Susie Bootja Bootja, Kaningarra, near the Canning Stock Route, acrylic on linen, 150 x 76 cm, 2000

image courtesy of TFAM

The Dreaming

The overarching theme expressed by Balgo artists is the Dreaming. The Dreaming is a complex and holistic concept that refers to a time of mythological Ancestral Beings or Sky Heroes, to Law (or the system of moral governance) and to religious beliefs.

Works by Balgo artists portray their ancestral stories of the land or “country” (what Indigenous Australians call land) through the depiction of nature. To Balgo artists, nature is a real replication of the Dreaming. The artists meditate on the Dreaming by depicting nature in their artworks.

Balgo “style” is more true to life than other Western Desert styles. The symbols used in the paintings stem from those used in traditional sand painting and drawing, and from body painting. The artists are known for their vivid choice of colours and balanced, often symmetrical, design. A blend of modernity and tradition is clear in work from the Balgo Hills; traditional tribal myths are recreated using modern acrylic and etching.

Brandy Tjungurrayi, Narroo, acrylic on linen, 120 x 80 cm, 2002

image courtesy of TFAM

The artists

There are a number of significant senior “master” Warlayirti (Balgo Hills) artists, all of whom are internationally recognised.

Lucy Yukenbarri and Susie Bootja Bootja both work with dots; Yukenbarri’s places her’s close together to form scalloped lines while Bootja Bootja creates dotted color fields.

Many of these artists use their various painting styles to represent water sources and the importance these have in their lands: Helicopter Tjungurrayi, Boxer Milner, Fred Tjakamarra, Tjumpo Tjapanangka, Lucy Loomoo and Elizabeth Nyumi.

Commonly, Bob Dingle Tjapanangka and John Lee Tjakamarra portray Luurnpa, the Ancestral Kingfisher, who lead the Kukatja people to their lands in the Dreaming. Brandy Tjungurrayi also portrays important Dreaming figures, but in sharp geometrics.

Kathleen Paddoon is known for her dramatic use of bright colour and a particularly minimalist approach.

Uniquely, Joan Nagomara works in the style of the early days of Balgo’s emergence, using it to show the ritual activities that tie her to her country.

Eubena Nampitjin and Ningie Nangala Nangala work with the hills and rocky outcrops of their countries, representing them in a minimalist linear fashion.

Stand-out emerging artists from the Balgo Hills region include Pauline Sunfly, who paints using intense color combinations, Miriam Baadjo, who presents the important Two Children Dreaming, and Jimmy Tchooga, who paints his father’s creation story.

The tour

Balgo: Contemporary Australian Art from the Balgo Hills has already shown in New Zealand, the Philippines, the USA, Thailand and Taiwan, and is currently exhibiting in Hong Kong. Further destinations include Vietnam, mainland China, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Korea. A touring schedule is available via the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

KN/KCE

Related Posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.