Art Through Time: A Global View
Dreams and Visions Art: Women’s Dreamings of the Tanami Desert 2
In Aboriginal cultures, Tjukurrpa (the Dreaming) encompasses a diverse collection of beliefs and stories about creator ancestors who shaped the world.
These ancestral beings are responsible for not only the formation of the physical landscape, but also the moral order of the universe and the laws and patterns governing human life. Although Dreamtime is conceived of as a mythical past, it remains vital in the present both because human behavior is conditioned by it and because the ancestors left their traces in the earth.
Aborigines first began using the term “Dreaming” in the early twentieth century to convey metaphorically the idea of an ancestral realm beyond ordinary perception, accessible only through certain rituals. Much of contemporary Aboriginal painting portrays the themes and stories of the Dreaming, drawing a connection between the natural and spiritual worlds to make ancestral events visible to the viewer, whose comprehension of the work will vary depending on the level of sacred knowledge he or she possesses. Although these works often appear abstract to Western viewers, they are, in fact, representational, making use of traditional icons and symbols to refer to specific elements of the landscape, the particular ancestors involved in the story, and the relationship of those beings to the land.
Some Dreamings are tied to specific locations, while others cover a broad sweep of lands and people. Aboriginal artists generally paint stories related to the lands from with which they claim descent. Margaret Anjullu’s Women’s Dreamings of the Tanami Desert 2 tells the story of her female ancestors in one of the two desert regions associated with the Kutjungka in Western Australia.
Anjullu is a member of the Balgo (Wirrimanu) community in the remote desert of Australia’s southeastern Kimberley region. The ancestral presence in Balgo, which lies on the kingfisher Dreaming track, is thought to be especially strong, making it a center of ceremonial activity. Two art forms have traditionally been critical to Kutjungka ceremony—sand drawing and body painting. As Anjullu’s Women’s Dreamings demonstrates, the aesthetics of Balgo painting mirror those of these more ephemeral ritual arts. Anjullu’s work, for instance, renders traditional signs in bold colors that have been applied through a technique involving the placement of dots of paint on canvas using a thin stick. This technique is called wakaninpa, a word associated with poking that suggests the connection between painting and traditional Kutjungka sand drawings created by piercing the ground. The effect of this approach, in turn, produces a shimmering effect on the canvas that is likened to the shimmering body that has been covered with pigments, oils, and animal fat. In a broader sense, the vibrancy of Women’s Dreamings echoes the power of the ancestral beings that not only pulsates through the ritually engaged body, but is embodied in the earth as well.
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