Ochre MagicMarch 7th, 2016
Guided visits all year, pre-booking required
A new exhibition on Australian Aboriginal art opens on 5th June, entitled OCHRE MAGIC. It is an homage to the great artists from the Kimberley in Western Australia where traditionally, artists paint their artworks with ochre and other natural pigments.
Contrary to previous exhibitions at “La grange” which showed the great diversity of Aboriginal art in Australia, the newly exhibited artworks, all from the collection of the Burkhardt-Felder Arts and Culture Foundation, originate from the Kimberley in the high north of Western Australia. Artists still collect their own ochre from land with which they have a spiritual connection in order to create their unique contemporary artworks.
The Kimberley, an area ten times bigger than Switzerland, is bordered by the Indian Ocean in the north and west, by the Great Sandy Desert in the south and the Tanami Desert in the east. Its population is small, with approximately 35,000 inhabitants of whom 50 % are Aborigines. One single sealed road traverses this vast region. The Kimberley landscape is complex, ageless, and varies from sandstone and limestone ranges to rugged coastlines, from the flood plains of the Fitzroy and Ord rivers to undulating sand country. The Bungle Bungles, a geological and spectacular landmark of orange and black striped domes, discovered by white people in the 1980s only, is to the Aborigines a sacred area, known as Purnululu.
Most artists worked as stockmen on big cattle stations for much of their lives before being expelled with their families from their ancestral land as a result of wage disputes in the late 1960s. Misery followed. Finally, they would receive help from missionaries and government. New communities formed, and unique art forms developed.
Rover Thomas, a former cattle drover (stockman in Australian English) had lost his job and joined the Warmun Community at Turkey Creek. It was there where in a dream, he received the components for a new ceremony, called Gurrir Gurrir, which includes chanting and dancing. Panels had to be painted for this ceremony. Rover Thomas began to paint, in a minimalist style. Today, he counts amongst the most important painters in the contemporary art movement. His Barramundi Dreaming, two and a half metres large, is a typical Kimberley masterpiece, painted with ochre and natural pigments. In an audacious, abstract manner, it condenses mythological and topographical elements.
Wandjinas are powerful Ancestor Spirits in the West Kimberley, painted in ochre with verve and respect by The Grand Old Man of the Kimberley, Jack Dale. Artists from Balgo and Fitzroy Crossing, situated closer to the desert, are equally represented in this exhibition. Ilmas, used for ceremonies on the north west coast of Western Australia as well as engraved pearl shells tell about culture and ceremonies in that part of the Kimberley.
Engraved boab nuts, painted figure heads and head sculptures further enhance this exhibition.
Two experts in the field, Professor John Stanton and Dr Arnaud Morvan, have contributed to the comprehensive catalogue with enlightening articles on Aboriginal history, ritual and art. The full-colour 104page catalogue is written in both English/French and French/German and provides detailed biographies of the artists and a description of their works and techniques.
In the museum space, résumés accompany each artwork exhibited, giving information about the artists and their works. In its pocket cinema, a documentary is shown on Aboriginal history and culture in Western Australia.