'My Place Your Place Our Place'
Originally designed by Josephine Severn for the Print Australia website.
Etching on Aluminium
This article by Susan Steggall is reproduced here with her permission.
Warringah Printmakers Studio combines respect for tradition with a taste for adventure, its 'place' in the heartland of Australian surf culture contributing to its stimulating and friendly atmosphere.
The art and craft studio at Ernabella in the Musgrave Ranges of Central Australia is the longest continually running Aboriginal art centre, with a creative tradition passed down from grandmother to mother and daughter, aunt to niece, sister to sister.
The Exhibition 'My Place Your Place Our Place',represents a chapter in the story-so-far of the developing relationship between the artists of Warringah and Ernabella. In a community sense it is a gesture of reconciliation. On a professional level, it is a shared creative journey.
"Unturngu" (Wild Vine Warringah)
B/W Photopolymer Intaglio
In the West's rush, over the last twenty years or so, to embrace Aboriginal art particularly that which operates with a big 'A' - big paintings, big names - Ernabella's art has been somewhat overlooked. Paradoxically, the batik fabrics which helped Ernabella earn its justifiable reputation, have contributed to its being regarded as something hybrid, not quite 'Aboriginal'.
In April last year four of Ernabella's artists came to Warringah for two weeks to acquire printmaking skills which, it was hoped, would help broaden their artistic range and increase public interest in their art. Nyuwara Tapaya, Carol Williams, Tessie Nelson and Sarah Dalby quickly learnt to adapt their distinctive Ernabella designs ('walka') to the technical requirements of Solar Plate, monotype and aluminium etching, and lost no time in incorporating 'Sydney' into their work: rows of trees in the Botanic Gardens, ferries and yachts crisscrossing the harbour, the building-block geometry of the CBD skyline.
The Warringah printmakers were fascinated by the way the Ernabella artists went 'straight into' their work, drawing and using colours without hesitation, producing complex designs at will.
Anthea Boesenberg has responded to Sydney's urban landscape - 'the physical and social architecture of my place' - with streets, buildings and parks ordered into formal grid-like patterns, thus creating spare yet imaginative images of a fast-paced modernist (Lang's 'Metropolis'?) city.
Joan Hartmann peoples Sydney's urban and shoreline spaces and bathes them in the glowing colours of early morning. Women from different backgrounds and cultures talk softly, 'sharing moments' from the everyday world of maternal and domestic duty and the spiritual world of dream and desire.
Since moving to the South Coast, Jan Melville's principal concern has been how to find her own mark of acceptance as a 'woman in her landscape'. Over and over she documents the land inscribing, annotating, the sinuous shape of the river and 'her' mountain, Wattamolla at the entrance to Kangaroo Valley.
|"Mountains and Rivers",
'My own outback and ocean adventures,' said Helen Clare, 'have always been my inspiration, my place'. Whether breaking surf or rippling desert sand, movement and energy, especially energy, is her dominant theme.
|"Power of Man &
Although Ernabella artists insist that their designs come directly from 'mind and heart', they are very much about nature's rhythms: the quicksilver colours of rippling water and sand, the play of sunlight on leaves and living things - human beings, honey ants, bush tomatoes - evolving in a kaleidoscope of colourful and intricate patterns. From my 'city' woman's experience, the closest I can get to grasping Ernabella's art, are my childhood memories of rich bright patterns made by sunlight filtering through stained glass windows. 'Don't ask for stories' (a recent book about Ernabella Art) also reinforces the assertion that Ernabella's designs have no narrative or cultural origins. Yet there are many tales to tell of life on the former mission station (1937-1972), the transition to an independent community and the women's efforts to maintain their creative output while dealing with present-day social problems.
"Ini Wiya" (untitled)
The work for the exhibition has evolved as a cooperative process, a long journey of physical and spiritual dimensions, and it has not always been easy to work between two languages, across two cultures with a few thousand kilometres in between. In the A-to-B kind of journeying, the aim is to get there - wherever 'there' might be - and back again, everything noted down except the 'why'. 'Travelling to accumulate things, not to experience being alive discovering paradise over there', wrote Robert Dessaix. On a multi-dimensional journey, 'paradise is in the travelling'.
Non-indigenous Australians are often envious of the special relationship which Aboriginal people have with this land, Terra Australis, and it is tempting to adopt their spirituality - as artists and writer have done in recent years with varying degrees of success and controversy. But we are all 'Australian' and there is - has to be - a way of reconciling the mythic and the spiritual in all our lives, as David Tacey wrote (in 'Edge of the Sacred'), some way of building an 'imaginal place' where inner and outer worlds can meaningfully relate to each other.
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