Wentja Morgan Napaltjarri
Place is an exhibition that locates us in this land. It is a conversation that explores our relationship with the Australian landscape—drawing upon the history of our visual narrative.
The layers of cultural and historical stratum are informed by and inextricably linked to the physical landscape. Our collective sense of place and purpose, coupled with the events enacted in the landscape, have become the foundation stones of nationhood. They have informed the perception of how we see ourselves and help to navigate a path forward.
How we acknowledge and revere the land that we occupy has manifested itself in many ways over the millennia of human occupation. Our history has been built on fact and mythology—often morphing, as is the human way, into a hybrid of the truth.
What effect does the naming of a place have and who is affected? In this country, duality exists in all places—separate, yet intertwined. Social and political loading is inevitable. Ownership continues to be contested—this debate acknowledged in every corner of the land.
Consider the name of a place—Botany Bay, or Kamay (as it has been known forever). Is this the birthplace of the Australian nation? Or the site that led to genocidal colonial invasion? This land is the touchstone for an ongoing debate. The shifts in perspective are echoed in the image making from the earliest recording of the events in 1788, through to the contemporary postcolonial investigations of today. We, in our viewing of that landscape through the imagery of the artists, can now acknowledge the cultural loading of a disputed landscape. In doing so, we have a chance to reconcile as one people in the future.
When engaging with representations of the land, evocative subliminal messaging in the arts and literature has always manifested. Interpretations draw on long standing traditions associated with cultural aesthetics. Whilst Edmund Burke’s 1757 philosophical enquiry into the Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful loom large over the landscape tradition in Australia, the powerful Indigenous representation of place brings a connection to the land that is unabridged. The linkages that exist are from vastly different perspectives. Wentja Morgan Napaltjarri’s epic five metre long painting, Rockholes west of Kintore, is filled with awe-inspiring gravitas. Whilst the western aesthetic tradition is philosophically different, the resulting intent is markedly similar to the very essence of the western ideals of the beautiful and the sublime in the landscape.
The inherent understanding of Place, collectively articulated by artists in this exhibition, is palpable. It points to our nation’s realisation through an understanding of our past—in the images we make, we subliminally discover our collective soul.
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