Breasts, Bodies, Canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience

Breast Bodies CanvasBreasts, Bodies, Canvas radically reinterprets Central Desert art. These paintings are not just aesthetically pleasing, they evoke crucial bodily sensations and sensibilities. Anthropologist Jennifer Biddle focuses on what this art ‘does’ rather than what it ‘means’. Breaking with a generation of scholarship that has identified these works as traditional symbolic representations of country, Biddle opens up a new path for understanding these works as material forces of culture, sentiment and politics. The encounter with Aboriginal art is understood to be a sensuous engagement with cultural difference as a lived reality.

This book examines the rise of female Aboriginal artists, including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Kathleen Petyarre, Dorothy Napangardi, Rosie Napurrurla Tasman and others, and the tactile and sensory activities involved in painting. Biddle argues that the recent success of women painters points to a certain ‘feminisation’ of country, Ancestor and Dreaming that makes this art literally enlivened and enlivening.

The launch of Dr Biddle’s book was held at CoFA, and hosted by the CCAP. The launch coincided with two other very special events: an exhibition of work produced during the Lajamanu Women’s Painting Workshop/Residency (held at CoFA from 13-22 March 2007), and the Warlpiri/Lajamanu womens’ performance of Yawulyu (Women’s Dreaming Ceremony). The launch and performance were attended by over 300 people, including Marion Scrymgour, the Northern Territory’s Minister for the arts.

Dr Jennifer Biddle is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics.

What others have said about Breasts, Bodies, Canvas:

Breasts, Bodies, Canvas is an illuminating and original account of contemporary Aboriginal women’s painting in Central Australia. This is not just a turning of attention to “women’s painting”, but a reorientation of how we might think about the entire art of this movement. With rich and imaginative interpretations of the works, Biddle allows us to see the extraordinary intercultural encounter offered in these paintings. This is a book that everyone interested in Indigenous art will want to read.’

Fred Myers, Professor of Anthropology, New York University