OCTOBER 2, 2013: History of Art & Architecture Colloquium

This Wednesday, I will be presenting a colloquium in the History of Art & Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. I will be speaking on some research I have been doing on the magnificent Kunwinjku artist Gabriel Maralngurra.It is a free event, open to the public, so please feel free to join us. All the details are below:

H 4656-04

Gabriel Maralngurra, Baldwin Spencer Buying Artefacts at Oenpelli in 1912 2003
Natural pigments and synthetic binder on paper, 76 x 102 cm, Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria

Is Art History Any Use to Aboriginal Artists?
Art Historical Reflexivity and the Politics of Representation in Gabriel Maralngurra’s “Contact Paintings”
Henry Skerritt
PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Room 203 Frick Fine Arts Building (University of Pittsburgh)

Between 2002 and 2006, the Kunwinjku artist Gabriel Maralngurra produced a series of paintings depicting historical moments of contact between Kunwinjku people and the anthropologists who visited Gunbalanya in Australia’s Northern Territory during the early decades of the 20th century. These pivotal moments of encounter marked the Kunwinjku’s first engagement with the art market. Utilizing a wide range of different Kunwinjku painting modes (traditional and contemporary, secular and ceremonial), I argue that Maralngurra’s paintings use art historical reflexivity to comment critically upon the nature of Indigenous self-representation. By asserting the intercultural possibilities of contemporary art, while drawing attention to the limits of this dialogic process, Maralngurra uses the intersection opened by contemporary art to reframe indigeneity in ways that mirror the hierarchies of knowledge transfer embedded in Kunwinjku ceremonial structures. In doing so, they offer new ways to consider indigeneity beyond the essentialising paradigms of authenticity, while suggesting strategies for an intercultural Kunwinjku art history.

JULY 31, 2013: Henry Skerritt & Will Owen at Toledo Museum of Art – The Video

Those of you with an hour to spare might like to check out the video of Will and I discussing the exhibition “Crossing Cultures” at the Toledo Museum of Art.

JULY 1, 2013: Henry Skerritt & Will Owen at Toledo Museum of Art

Wow. It has been rather too long since I posted any news here. But I thought I should mention that I will be speaking with Will Owen at the Toledo Museum of Art at 7pm on Friday July 12, 2013 in the Little Theater. We will be discussing “The Contemporaneity of Aboriginal Art.” I suspect it will be a robust and lively discussion, so if you are in the Ohio area, please come along!

You can find more details here.

NOVEMBER 9, 2012:

Vale Pauline Moran, 1959-2012

Pauline Moran, Memories of Roeland Mission, 2011 (Exhibited at the 2011 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards).

Lydia and I were saddened today to hear of the passing of Pauline Moran. Anyone who ever had the pleasure of meeting Pauline, would recall her as someone of extraordinary vitality, warmth and optimism.  Borne out in her incredible joie-de-vivre, beaming smile and ability to find immense humour in the smallest thing, Pauline carried this sanguineness in the face of a decade long battle against ovarian cancer. We both recalled with great fondness, the wonderful time we spent with her at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in 2009, where her four panel work Mission Times held a prominent position. According to her representatives Mossenson Galleries, Pauline passed away peacefully in Bunbury Hospital on 25 October, and following her wishes, was laid to rest in Gnowangerup on Tuesday 6th November 2012.

Henry, Pauline Moran and Naomi Mossenson at the 2009 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Darwin. Photo by Lydia Lange.

Pauline Moran was born in Gnowangerup, Western Australia in 1959. Like so many of her generation, as a child she was removed from her family and placed in Roelands Mission, near Collie. Despite the unfortunate circumstances of her coming to be there, Pauline described fond memories of her time at the Mission: “The Mission that I grew up in was a dairy farm and was surrounded by seven hills. In wintertime the hills were beautiful and green with wild flowers everywhere. In the summer it was so dry that the grass would turn a beautiful yellow.” Her paintings are joyful and lively vignettes, representing the bonds and shared experience of the children who grew up together at Roelands, showing a camaraderie shared amongst them in what must nonetheless have been challenging circumstances. Pauline’s paintings of the Roelands Mission represent an important historical document, a compelling archive of personal experiences, and a detailed record of shared memories and moments too easily lost to the narratives of history. Their importance as a record of a rarely told part of Australian history cannot be underestimated.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2012:

More from Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum

Clockwise from left: Crossing Cultures at the Hood Museum; Henry & Harvey Wagner with Shorty Jangala Robertson’s Ngapa Jukurrpa – Puyurru 2007; Lydia, Gabriel and Henry with Maggie Watson Napangardi’s Ngalyipi Jinta Punta Jukurrpa 1996.

Lydia, Gabriel and I returned yesterday from a truly magical weekend in Hanover, New Hampshire. We were there for the launch of Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Artat the Hood Museum of Art.

The exhibition is, quite simply, stunning. Curator Stephen Gilchrist should be commended for his tasteful hang, which achieves the rare balance of giving every work space to shine while speaking lucidly to those around it. Likewise, Stephen has kept the sense of tradition and place that informs these works at the forefront of the exhibition, while still allowing their individual mastery and inherent contemporaneity to shine through. In short, Crossing Cultures offers a perfect illustration of why Australian Aboriginal art is at the vanguard of international contemporary art; better than any other single movement, Aboriginal art reveals the connective fibres that allow us to maintain and communicate our unique identities in a world of accelerating difference. Stephen also edited the very impressive 169-page catalogue, which has important essays from established and emerging scholars (including a humble essay by yours truly – see post below).

While Stephen’s achievements cannot be underestimated, credit must also go to Will Owen and Harvey Wagner for amassing such a fine body of works. While many institutions and private collectors clamour for over-sized ‘major’ works, Will and Harvey’s collection shows that quality always trumps size. While most works in Crossing Cultures are ‘domestic’ in scale, they are all expansive in their aesthetic achievements. Although modest in size, works like Patrick Tjungarrayi’s Illyatjara 2001 (121 x 91 cm) or Naata Nungurrayi’s Marapinti 2005 (121 x 91 cm) are stunning examples of the artists’ work. More importantly, every piece fits within an extraordinarily coherent vision, allowing each piece to tease out rich parallels across the collection.

Installation image from Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art.

Amongst the activities during the weekend, on Saturday afternoon Will Owen gave a passionate floor talk in which he made a compelling case for the rich traditions and aesthetic innovation across the regions displayed in Crossing Cultures. Will has such a broad knowledge and deep empathy for the work, it was a wonderful experience to hear him speaking to an audience that ranged from uninitiated New Englanders through to established experts in the field (such as Professor Howard Morphy and Dr Margo Smith). It is to his enormous credit that he managed to find a way to sharing his knowledge and passion across such a broad audience.

In contrast, the previous evening, Stephen Gilchrist chaired a panel discussion consisting entirely of Indigenous voices, featuring curator/artist Brenda Croft, artist Christian Thompson and Sonia Smallacombe from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Entitled Together Alone: Politics of Indigeneity and Culture in Australia the panel was focused less on art than on questions of Indigenous identity politics in Australia. All speakers spoke eloquently and passionately about the discrimination and prejudice facing Indigenous people in Australia today. Again, Stephen Gilchrist deserves enormous credit for creating such a powerful forum for the articulation of Indigenous voices. My only criticism (and it should be considered a minor one – because overall I thought the panel was an important and well executed statement), was that the connection between these identity questions and the dialogic space of contemporary Aboriginal art was only tangentially touched upon in the panel discussion. This is an issue of enormous complexity, and one that is difficult to elucidate to audiences unfamiliar with the history of Aboriginal art in Australia. Nevertheless, in my mind at least, this connection is vital to understanding why Aboriginal art stands at the forefront of contemporary art practice. Aboriginal art is not simply a defense mechanism against the onslaught of colonialism, it is a nuclear scale weapon that forcefully exposes the contradictions and antinomies inherent in the modernist imperial project. This is something of global significance, which is why Aboriginal art speaks as eloquently in Hanover, New Hampshire as it does in Sydney, Melbourne, Kintore or Yuendumu.  It is also why Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art is a must see exhibition for anyone interested in contemporary art, or simply just understanding the contemporary world in which we live.

Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art, runs from September 15, 2012–March 10, 2013. For more information, visit The Hood Museum website.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2012:

Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art

Lydia, Gabriel and I are getting ready to head to Hanover, New Hampshire next weekend for the opening of Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art. Curated by fellow West Australian expat Stephen Gilchrist, the Hood’s Curator of Indigenous Australian Art, Crossing Cultures is on display until March 10, 2013.  Stephen, formerly with the National Gallery of Victoria, also edited the 169-page catalogue that accompanies the exhibition and features, along with full-color illustrations of the 113 paintings, sculptures, and photographs in the show, essays by Sally Butler, John Carty, Jennifer Deger, Françoise Dussart, N. Bruce Duthu, Stephen Gilchrist, Brian P. Kennedy, Howard Morphy, Will Owen, and a humble contribution from me, Henry F. Skerritt. I was really thrilled to be able to contribute a piece to this major volume. It should be an amazing weekend, full of interesting events and the chance to catch up with some old friends and some great art!

For more information, visit The Hood Museum website.