Ancient or modern? The perplexing case of indigenous art



The problem is that Aboriginal Australians do not, as a rule, look at
their own art in the way I have described above. Aboriginal artists
aren’t working with anything like a Kantian conception of a free play of
the faculties and they have, in the vast majority of cases, no interest
in the idea of abstraction as that idea emerged in European and then
American painting in the 20th century. Aboriginal artists have (up until
very recently) no conception of art as something to hang on a wall, to
enjoy visually and with non-specific cognitive delight. Indeed, many if
not most Aboriginal artists are bemused by the idea of “keeping” works
of art at all, since their practice is to wash off the body paint or
muss-up the designs in the sand after the ceremony is over. Art, for the
Aboriginal artist, is less about having and keeping, and more about
using and doing. Aboriginal artists make their designs in order to map
out sacred sites in the landscape, or to tell important stories, or as
an aid to various specific forms of ritual and worship. The idea of
putting the work on canvas and selling it to outsiders only came about
as recently as the 1970s, and as a way for Aboriginal communities to
make some extra money.

Abie Loy Kemarre, for instance, was thinking not about Kandinsky, but about hens and seeds when she made Bush Hen Dreaming — Bush Leaves.
The work, for all its abstract beauty, is a map of sorts, a map of
sacred sites around Artenya, Kemarre’s ancestral homeland. It also
tracks the movements of the bush hen in its search for bush tomatoes, a
quest that is mythologized in the ritual tales that Aboriginals call
“The Dreaming,” the central narratives that frame Aboriginal life. In
short, there is quite a lot going on in Bush Hen Dreaming that
someone who purchased the painting and hung it over their couch in the
living room might know nothing about. The question, I suppose, is
whether this matters. Can we like her painting simply for the ways it
pleases the eye? Are we required to understand the painting in the way
that Abie Loy Kemarre does?

apparently they make art on North Sentinel Island, with their intricately carved bows

oh no

i want to sail there and gift them a modern compound bow + arrows

stop me before i commit warcrimes

Ancient or modern? The perplexing case of indigenous art

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