Secret Histories | “Marking the Infinite” Power of the First Peoples of Australia
Artwork: WINTJIYA NAPALTJARRI Women’s Ceremonies at Watanuma, 2007 Acrylic on Belgian linen 72 1/20 x 60 6/25 in.
After they began colonizing the continent in 1788, the British coined the term “Aboriginal Australia” to collectively describe all native peoples of the land. The Constitution of Australia, in its original form in 1901, makes references to the peoples twice, both times as a means to disregard them. These references were removed in 1967, but the damage had already been done.
DNA studies in 2011 prove that Aborigines emigrated to Australia directly from Africa up to 75,000 years ago. More than 400 distinct peoples have been identified, distinguished by their languages. Despite the British disregard, the peoples already had names, as well as arts, traditions, and cultures so deep that, despite two centuries of genocidal regime, they would not be erased.
As the injustices of the past come to light, the legacies of the First Peoples of Australia are being honored worldwide. Marking the Infinite, a new exhibition of works by contemporary women artists from Aboriginal Australia, has just launched a major North American museum tour. Currently on view at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, New Orleans through December 30, 2016, the exhibition will visit Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University, Miami (February – May 2017), the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno (February – May 2018), The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (June – September 2018), and the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver (November 2018 – February 2019).
Marking the Infinite features the work of Nonggirrnga Marawili, Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Yukultji Napangati, Angeline Pwerle, Carlene West, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Lena Yarinkura, Gulumbu Yunupingu, and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. The women, who hail from remote areas across Australia, are revered matriarchs in leadership roles who use art as a tool to empower their communities.
Their works are steeped in the traditions that have survived, revealing the power of the human spirit to overcome the very worst this earth has to offer. The art transports us to another time and place, one that speaks across the millennia, bringing us face to face with a way of using art that is unlike the commercial nature of the West. Whether made with natural earth pigments and tree bark, or synthetic paints on canvas, the works selected for Marking the Infinite speak to the myths and legends of the First Peoples that have survived, deeply imbued with spiritual energies that can be perceived through the act of sight.
Many of the works in Marking the Infinite were commissioned specifically for the exhibition, allowing the artists to work on the grandest scale possible. The result is monumental not only in scale but in depth. These are monuments to a people undefeated, who would not be bowed. These are monuments to the dead, reminding us that the time is always now. We who survive are charged to carry on, to write the Truth, and right the wrongs of the past.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.