Feminist Aesthetics Meets Indigenous Art

Rosie Napurrurla Tasman, Ngurlu (2007)

Article released: Wednesday, 18 July, 2007

This project, which is a collaboration between the CCAP’s Senior Research Fellow Dr Jennifer Biddle and A/Prof Robyn Ferrell of the University of Melbourne, sets out to investigate Indigenous communities’ use of art to depict their traditional Dreamings. The philosophy underlying these depictions is that art is the knowledge it portrays, which in turn evokes title to land through the law of Dreaming, of belonging to ‘country’. To better understand this negotiation advances debate on issues surrounding  Aboriginal reconciliation.

One of the outcomes of Dr Biddle’s research was the Lajamanu Women’s Painting Workshop/Residency, hosted by the CCAP and held at CoFA from 13-22 March 2007. The residency culminated in an exhibition of the womens’ paintings produced during the workshop, and their 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. These events also coincided with the launch of Dr Biddle’s new book, Breasts, Bodies, Canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience, published by UNSW Press. The 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. Dr 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. By focussing on what this art ‘does’ rather than what it ‘means’, Breasts, Bodies, Canvas breaks with a generation of scholarship that has identified these works as traditional symbolic representations of country – instead, the works are understood as material forces of culture, sentiment and politics.