Saturday, April 07, 2007

Aboriginal Art

While traveling around Australia I generally avoided buying souvenirs, preferring instead to take a lot of photos and write a detailed blog. I picked up a few things along the way, a couple of maps, an Australian flag sticker, a few plastic thorny devils, but nothing that I would consider a true memento from the trip. Among the trinkets I passed up: boomerangs, carved statuettes, didgeridoos, the usual assortment of shot glasses, mouse pads and t-shirts, and a lot of Aboriginal art that all looked the same to me.

Until a few days ago. While walking down the mall in Darwin, I spied an unfinished painting in front of the used bookstore. The artist was nowhere to be seen. I told myself I would return later and talk to the artist and see how much the painting would go for. The next day, Good Friday, I returned to find the painting was complete, hanging in a place of prominence on the end of one of the bookstore shelves. The store was closed but the painting was still there.

As I walked around downtown Darwin that night I came upon a woman painting in front of another shop. I looked at her work and immediately recognized the style. I introduced myself and asked about the painting of the goanna. She told me to come back the next day and speak to the owner of the gallery above the bookstore. I could buy the painting then.

Sonda Turner Nampijinpa is an Aboriginal artist whose work has been exhibited internationally. The gallery owner described Sonda as the most famous Aboriginal artist in Darwin and the first woman to paint using traditional methods. I can’t attest to the last item, but I believe the first two.

Whatever her credentials, her work struck me like none of the other Aboriginal art I had seen in Australia. There was a clarity and preciseness that attracted me. The colors are balanced and the subject is at the forefront. That I’ve developed a miniature obsession with goannas and other large lizards doesn’t hurt either. Also, the painting depicts a food-related scene, with women seated around a campfire, the goanna that will soon be dinner, witchetty grubs, a strand of native cherry, spinifex, and grass blown into the shape of a whirly-whirly. The colored dots also are representative of elements that would exist in such a scene. What appears to be just a painting of a big lizard is actually much deeper.

I paid a pretty penny for my painting. But I’m pleased with the purchase and happy to have one solid reminder of my time in Australia. I hope everyone will get a chance to see it up close one day in the future.

Me with Sonda Turner Nampijinpa and the painting.



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