A slice of Aboriginal culture

Aboriginal paintings found in private collections around the world are coming home to Australia as part of a major exhibit in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival.

"Papunya Tula: Genesis & Genius," at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) from Aug. 18 to Nov. 12, traces the evolution of an arts movement that originated in 1971 in Papunya, a small, desert community about 250 km (about 150 miles) west of Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory. Papunya was a government settlement, home to Aboriginals displaced from their lands. A teacher there encouraged children to create art with traditional motifs. The older men quickly followed suit by painting their tjukurrpa (ancestral stories).

Although it would be another decade before collectors and galleries paid attention to Papunya artists, their work had a "major influence on the cultural landscape of Australia," says Hetti Perkins, curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at AGNSW.

Displaying about 130 paintings, the exhibit will be the first comprehensive survey of the Papunya Tula movement. Visitors will have a rare opportunity to interact with artists as they create paintings at the museum.

"That will be a way of articulating the connection between the painting and the ceremonial life that continues to underpin the work," says Ms. Perkins, who is Aboriginal and was first captivated by Papunya Tula images as a child at her mother's gallery.

Helping the public understand the art is also an important step in the reconciliation process between indigenous people and those who came after them, Perkins says. "The principle that drives it is this wanting to share their culture.... That's what I think sustained the artists in that first decade, when no one was interested and no one was buying the work."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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