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Paintings of lifetimes in the desert

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Nicholas Rothwell explores the Spinifex Arts Project
The Australian – 6 August, 2012

Image: Artists from the Women’s Collaborative at Tjintirkara. Picture courtesy of Louise Allerton

There are many who wonder if there is anything true or genuine we can say about work that comes from somewhere so different from our world – and the difference, of course, is the point endlessly stressed. What, though, if Spinifex art were close to us, close to our hearts? What if the concerns of the Spinifex artists were, in truth, our deepest concerns?

By now, indigenous art enthusiasts and connoisseurs are in possession of a good deal of basic knowledge about desert art, its themes, its sweeping narratives, its symbols and its external reference points. Stories aplenty have been gathered, doctorates have been completed, little realms of expertise have been carved out on the fringes of the painting movement.

Elegant, appreciative catalogue essays detailing and exploring the strange, unfamiliar features of desert belief systems are almost the norm now, for the outside experts tell us they have come painstakingly to know a good deal about these works, about the lives and convictions of the men and women who make them and, increasingly, about the sacred sites, the ranges and the waterholes that compose the landscape we see stretched out before our eyes in paint.

It has been a rapid journey, from first rough images on board to large-scale cultural current; from simple outside view to inside knowledge. And how much we yearn to know those secrets, and penetrate the desert’s veil. How keen we are to scan the studies and interpretations that come our way, and take the schemas and the explanations that they offer into our hearts!

Presented by Vivien Anderson Gallery, Tupun Nguranguru: People of the Sandhill Country the Spinifex Arts Project 15th Anniversary Exhibition, is at fortyfivedownstairs 31 July – 11 August, 2012. This is an edited version of the catalogue essay written by Nicolas Rothwell.

Read the article in full.

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