Stories in Motion

Review of Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art at Seattle Art Museum by Chloe L.

Gloria Tamerr Petyarr, Leaves 2002

The art seems to move. As I step farther and farther away from Gloria Tamerr Petyarr’s Leaves, my eyes still can’t seem to see the entire work of art at once. What looked like a jumble of white lines on black canvass from up-close turns into millions of leaves blowing in the wind as more space is added between me and the canvas. The leaves are flying in so many directions my eyes can’t seem to keep track of their entirety. This is a common theme that runs through the art of Ancestral Modern: the feeling that no matter how long one stares at the painting they will never see all the movement it produces.

Mitjili Napanangka Gibson, Wilkinkarra, 2007

It’s an art experience different from what I’m used to thinking of as art. There are no people painted to look lifelike; in fact, there are no recognizable shapes in most of the art. Yet, the artwork finds a way to tell one its story. While I might not have been able to pick up that Lightning Snakes of Blue Mud Bay by Djambawa Marawili was a picture of lightning snakes, I certainly saw the battle between water and fire that played out on the undulating service of the eucalyptus bark canvas.

Tjumpo Tjapanangka, Wati Kutjarra (Two Brothers Dreaming), 2004

Lines and dots turn into shapes and patterns which turn into stories in motion. The artists are retelling the age-old stories of their culture and painting the past with their brush strokes. A way of life, a native environment, myths and legends are all recreated and passed on to the people of Seattle to learn from. The movement of the art is what makes the stories captivating. The art creates a desire to continually stare, searching for the source of the motion. The artists captivate the viewer, allowing them to share in the art and in the artist themselves. As stories are shared, each viewer walking through the exhibit gets the opportunity to experience a sampling of a remote culture. This art collection, together with its descriptions and the videos of the people, showcases a piece of Australian Aboriginal culture and shares it with the world. The artists of this exhibition have found a way to proclaim their unique heritage through the swirling brushstrokes of their art.

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art
Seattle Art Museum
Through September 2, 2012

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