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    Our Way Aboriginal Art at Wang Center

    On Wednesday, Oct. 10, an art history professor from the University of Queensland, Sally Butler, was invited to Stony Brook University as a Presidential lecturer to discuss the new exhibit shown in the Wang Center. The exhibit is titled ‘Our Way: Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Lockhart River.’

    Dr. Butler’s book namesake is no coincidence either. Dr. Butler has spent ten years working with aboriginal artists in the Lockhart River area in northern Australia and is a key influence in this touring exhibit.

    SBU is the first venue to show this modern-day exhibit. The exhibit is displayed within the Wang Center, so individual pieces can be enjoyed and contemplated about with no limit of time.

    The exhibit is collaborated to show the art work of a community of aboriginal artists from Australia. The ancestors of these aboriginal artists were the first inhabitants of the island of Australia and Dr. Butler does not disregard this. Before Butler spoke on Wednesday in the Wang Center, she began by acknowledging the aboriginal people. She said this is customary in Australia.

    It is obvious that Dr. Butler has a connection and insight to this ancient culture, although she is not of aboriginal decent. She spoke with enthusiasm and a great knowledge of the work of the Cape York ‘Art Gang’ whose work is on display.

    Butler said that the work in the show is ‘a new dimension of aboriginal art.” However, Butler also suggested that the reception aboriginal art is poor. Some scholars and art enthusiasts look for a specific style in the work of aboriginal artists, while for an unfortunate majority this category of art is under experienced. The show hopes to confront the set notions of what is true aboriginal art work and also make people aware and interested in this work.

    Most of the art in the show is created by female artists.’ The ‘girls did their thing and the market responded,’ Butler said.’ From this an entire show was collected and a culture has begun to be appreciated.

    Most of the artists are young women in their 20’s and the show has a ‘focus in the 21st century.” What this means is that these artists have a multiple world view while still having the history and culture of a small community. This idea of cultural multiplicity is at home in most universities and therefore the exhibit fits right into the culture of SBU.

    The Lockhart River art has no stylistic anchors to the past because the artists’ education focuses on teaching artistic skills rather than art history. The work is entirely new and may be considered ground-breaking in some context.

    While some works look stylistically like American abstract expressionism pieces, Butler insists that this is from applying certain techniques to a unique vision of the artists.

    The concept of time is different for the aboriginal people. This culture considers the past as alive. The artists bring this living past into their work.

    One piece Butler described during the presentations was a piece done by Rosella Namok in what looked like a modernist piece, but instead was taken from the context of ancient aboriginal tradition. The work detailed vertical lines all created differently with various colors creating a pattern across the paper.

    Butler said that this painting was inspired by the tradition of ‘yarning’ when the elder women of the community pass down experiences to the younger girls by drawing in the sand. Each line in Namok’s work represented a different woman and a different story told. What could be interpreted as inspired by modernism is controversy inspired by a traditional process.

    Butler said that the true nature of cultural traditions is to ‘keep things alive that were almost gone.” ‘Our Way’ recognizes this idea and creates within it.

    The art work of the Lockhart River is rather new and has really been pursued by the artists after they realized that they could make a living by selling their work and, consequently, get recognition from the rest of the world. The income acquired from the artists has ‘regenerated’ the community according to Butler and has left an interesting mark in the art world.

    Specifically, what is different about Lockhart River art from traditional aboriginal art is that there is a degree of individuality that confronts communal art.

    The community of the Lockhart River is one that is not easily accessible and therefore, according to Butler, the aboriginals that live there are sometimes forgotten.

    This area in northern Australia has two extreme seasons: the ‘wet’ and the dry season. This extreme climate is well-known to the inhabitants of Australia. Some of the artists’ pieces have the theme and conveys the feelings of the seasons and are particular popular with Australian nationals.

    The exhibit in the Wang Center can be enjoyed casually for the aesthetic beauty of the pieces, but knowledge of the world of the aboriginal people is most rewarding. The exhibit runs until Nov. 16.

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