In the late 1980s women artists took the reins of the contemporary Aboriginal art movement in Australia. After years of working in the shadows, assisting their fathers and husbands, they burst onto the scene, giving it a new vitality and dynamism. Women artists redrew the boundaries of Aboriginal art, and continue to be among its most daring innovators. Though cultural activity has always been central to the secular and sacred lives of women, art making in recent decades has offered a key means for women to also maintain their social and economic independence.
The nine artists in this exhibition—Nonggirrnga Marawili, Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Yukultji Napangati, Angelina Pwerle, Carlene West, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Lena Yarinkura, Gulumbu Yunupingu, and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu—offer a glimpse into the diverse contemporary art practice of Aboriginal Australia. Hailing from remote areas across the island continent, they are revered matriarchs, commanding leadership roles and using art to empower their respective communities. The works are steeped in ancient cultural traditions, specific to each artist, and yet speak to universal contemporary themes, revealing the continued relevance of indigenous knowledge in the 21st century.
The subjects of the works range from remote celestial bodies and the native bush plum’s tiny flowers to venerable craft traditions and women’s ceremonies. Accordingly, each work grapples with the most fundamental questions of existence. Every mark bears testament to natural and cosmological cycles that put one’s being into perspective, whether the ebb and flow of sacred waters and ancestral sands, or the simple passage of a brush against canvas. These artists make marks upon the infinite, asserting both our shared humanity and differences in experiencing and valuing the same planet.