Indigenous Australian art takes many forms – rock painting, dot painting, rock engravings, bark painting, carvings, sculptures, and weaving and string art – and is the oldest unbroken tradition of art in the world.
It is rich in meaning and forms a central element of aboriginal life, the motifs, symbols and designs used revealing tribal relationships, social position, and more – all of which is noted by Sophie de Saint Phalle (Perpetua1010) in the introduction to Infinite, her latest exhibition which opened at the end of January 2022 in a new level of her gallery spaces, the Subcutan Art Gallery and Multimedia Centre.
Art is part of the main rituals in Aboriginal culture: it marks territories, records history, supports and transmits narratives about the Dreamtime. Similar to how Christians have their own story about the creation of the world, Aboriginal Dreamtime describes the creation of the world and each landscape.
– From the introduction of Infinite by Sophie de Saint Phalle
Laid out in a setting designed to evoke thoughts of the outback desert, with large rock-like blocks that appear to shimmer in the heat, Infinite presents a series of bass-relief paintings and watercolours by Sophie produced in the same manner and styles as those used by Australian aboriginals. However, these are no mere interpretations of indigenous art; rather, it is a genuine homage, as Sophie notes:
My art shown at this gallery was inspired by my stay in Australia where I lived with the Aborigines for several weeks.
From the Aborigines I learnt how to find and use the typical aboriginal paints. Mainly pigments derived from clay tinted with mineral oxides Very rare is the colour blue which you find in some of my paintings.
Some colours are mined from “ochre mines” and used for both painting and ceremonies. Inorganic pigments such as ochre or rock flour is sometimes collected only by certain men of a clan. Other colours are made from clay, wood ash, and animal blood. All colours are natural.
– Sophie de Saint Phalle
These are richly evocative pieces that speak to traditions, beliefs and a view of the world that is far, older than any European or other influences that have made their way to, and across, Australia.
They also stand as a mark of respect from Sophie to the peoples with whom she spent time and from whom she learned their techniques and approach to their painting as a expression of their history. For as she again herself notes: within aboriginal society, reputation is acquired through the gaining of knowledge and understanding and not by the accumulation of material possessions.
Thus the pieces in this exhibition speak to the knowledge and understanding Sophie has received from her mentors, and presents a reflection of the infinite depth of their beliefs and connection to Nature. They also offer a fascinating glimpse into a world the majority of us will never witness, much less encounter or understand, marking Infinite as much a journey as an exhibition.
- Infinite, Subcutan Art Gallery (Ocean Island, rated Adult)