Timothy Cook Kulama 2011, natural pigments and acrylic binder on canvas 150 x 200cm Photo: Collection of Seva Frangos, PerthThe world is not a foreign land.ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, Acton. Until November 9. Wednesday to Sunday 12-5pm. Free.
The world is not a foreign land brings together the work of five indigenous artists – Timothy Cook, Djambawa Marawili, Ngarra, Rusty Peters, Freda Warlapinni and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu – working in markedly different communities in various parts of Australia and exploring distinct artistic languages.
Quentin Sprague, the curator of this exhibition, explains his thinking behind bringing such a disparate body of art together. He writes, “Crossing three geographically and culturally distinct regions – the Tiwi Islands, the Kimberley and North-eastern Arnhem Land – the included artists present sometimes strikingly different perspectives. However, seen together, the work … also reveals a series of productive and meaningful relationships. While a number of these – such as the different approaches to Yolngu art displayed by Marawilli and Yunupingu, or the generational influence between Cook and Warlapinni -are clearly defined, others are far more propositional, driven instead by a feeling for how certain objects and, by extension, certain practices, might relate in the physical space of an exhibition.”
Except for the broadest possible framework, there seems to be little that actually brings these artists together and a number of these artists are not represented by their best works. The reason this show is worth visiting that it includes the paintings of two of the most interesting indigenous artists presently exhibiting in Australia. The Tiwi artist, Timothy Cook, simply gets better with time. Although he has been exhibiting for about 15 years and is in his mid-50s, he has an amazing lightness of touch in his application of the paint and a clarity of artistic vision. His art is essentially concerned with the Kulma Ceremony (Yam Ceremony), which occurs late in the wet season when a ring becomes visible around the moon. It is a ceremony that marks a cross-over in the seasons; it is a time when a particular species of yam is being harvested and when the initiation of boys into manhood takes place. After three days of chanting and dancing, a boy receives his adult name and enters into his new stage in life. Cook brings elements from all of these events into his compositions.
Ever since I first saw Cook’s work in Darwin in the late 1990s, I have been absolutely captivated by his art and have followed his paintings, on canvas and on paper, in the various NATSIAA awards (which he won in 2012) and Togart exhibitions, as well as in exhibitions throughout Australia. He is certainly the most interesting painter to emerge from the Tiwi Islands, where he was born in 1958 on Melville Island, and like many Tiwi artists came form a carving tradition associated with the pukumani poles and their elaborate ceremonies. It may seem sacrilegious to say this, but in his mark making he reminds me of Tony Tuckson’s work, only it is purer and has a greater sense of urgency and decisiveness in the marks. There is a great selection of Timothy Cook’s work in this exhibition, which to my mind reinforces his place as one of the finest painters working in Australia today.
The other main attraction in this exhibition is Rusty Peters, an artist who is almost 80 and comes from the East Kimberley. A painter and printmaker, he worked with Rover Thomas, Freddie Timms and Paddy Bedford but has developed his own distinctive style. His stunning canvas in this show, Berrngalanginy (Eaglehawk Dreaming), 2008, has a boldness in design with strong earth colours but also with a touch of humour and whimsy. He is a popular and well-patronised artist, who every now and then will create a wonderful canvas such as this one.
As much as we may wish to divorce indigenous art from the conventions of museums and modernism, by displaying it within the white cube and the ambience of that space, we import with this, that particular interpretative frame of reference. If part of the intent of this exhibition is to break down this paradigm, then it probably has not fully succeeded. Where it has succeeded is in bringing together in an unusual juxtaposition some exceptionally fine work.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.