Like a turtle paddling in the shallows I observed the sharks manoeuvre in the depths of an ocean made of language and questioned wether I really wanted to enter those depths and why? On the day I was there, speakers from the arts spoke in an intimate theatre. I wondered if there was any tension between the artists and animal activists due to the fine line between animal exploitation that some artists tread. The specialised audience created an expectation for dense theoretical papers, which I had not prepared for, my presentation being for a general audience. Video, photography and installation/performance were the preferred mediums to express animal/human relations by the artists, I was the only painter.
Indigenous culture was not mentioned at all in this session by artists. The animals involved were urban pets and farmed animals. My perspective of becoming animal is unable to disassociate from indigenous culture because it informs my own relationship to animals which are indigenous or feral.
A recent exhibition in relation to the theme involving some of the artists Becoming Animal/Becoming Human
The work of Sam Easterson interested me the most due to the natural habitat context the animals were in when making the work.
A cultural hub in the Gunbalanya community is the Injalak Arts centre where visitors can meet local artists and see exquisite painting, fibre and sculptural arts being created. I encountered a significant ochre painting on bark by highly skilled painter Graham Badari, which I purchased. I then had the privilege of sitting down with Graham with the painting and listening to the associated stories. The spirit depicted is very powerful and is named Namorrodoh, the shooting star spirit.
The work was exhibited in September 2008 at Mossenson Galleries, Melbourne at the ‘Sex, Spirits and Sorcery’ exhibition along with many other phenomenal works by Graham.
I sat with Glen Namundja while he painted and showed me how to grind, not crush, ochre and mix with glue. You can see my crushing attempts with my own ochre in the background.
Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) is an indigenous community where Kunwinjku is spoken and traditional arts and ceremony is practiced. As Balanda (outsider) I began a process of learning and integration which unveiled the rich creative spring of cultural connection to country and its ecological diversity.