Wild Yam Dreaming

Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming), 1995, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, (2000.157 Seattle Art Museum)

I loooove this painting. It is usually one of my stops whenever I find myself at the Seattle Art Museum. This little image doesn’t really do it justice as it is pretty big and very vibrant. What got me thinking about it again was a link to an article on E-Flux about an exhibit at Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany called Remembering Forward: Australian Aboriginal Painting since 1960. (Ms. Kngwarreye also has work in this show.)

Here’s some of the text from the article. I’ve bolded the parts I thought were most significant.

It is far more than living memory: it is a sensory, non-linear intertwining of past and future, of cause and effect, that distinguishes Australian Aboriginal painting. In Europe these unusual artworks are still largely unknown. The Museum Ludwig will devote attention to them in a large exhibition of approximately fifty paintings by nine outstanding artists of the past five decades.

Despite their origins in remote regions of Australia, these works are central contributions to contemporary art and expand our understanding of painting. By including a selection of artists from various regions—the Western and Central Desert, the Kimberley and Arnhem Land—the exhibition also acknowledges the diversity of Australia’s different Indigenous cultures.

These works by nine outstanding artists represent the creative interpenetration of tradition and modernity.

This exhibition places particular emphasis on the artists behind the works, whose individual styles and developments become clear. Their works are not understood as expressions of their cultural backgrounds; rather, they are the artistic presentation of the interpenetration of tradition and modernity. The artists have all chosen to paint stories based on their Dreamings, from the oral tradition of the time of creation. These creation myths describe, according to Aboriginal beliefs, how the ancestors formed the land, but at the same time they reach into the future. The artworks must thus be understood as a highly current involvement with this system of beliefs, not as the reprocessing of a cultural history. Together with modern materials such as acrylic paints and canvas, this has led to highly innovative visual representations and new developments of content as well.

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