Aboriginal Australian female art work to be shown in Scottsdale

Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Women’s Ceremonies at Watanuma, 2007.
(Photo: Sid Hoeltzell)

A new exhibition featuring paintings and sculptures of nine contemporary women artists from the remote Aboriginal areas of Australia will open in September at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

The exhibition, “Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia,” will open Sept. 23, and be on display through Jan. 21, according to a press release.

Of the nine artists, seven are still alive: Nonggirrnga Marawili, Yukultji Napangati, Angelina Pwerle, Carlene West, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Lena Yarinkura and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Gulumbu Yunupingu and Wintjiya Napaltjarri are both deceased.

Born between the 1920s and the 1970s, these women are revered matriarchs in their communities, and are among the most celebrated artists in Australia; all have works in the Australian National Museum’s collection.

Nyapanyapa Yunupingu’s work has been shown at the Sydney Biennale. The work of her sister, Gulumbu Yunupingu, is in the permanent collection of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. Regina Pilawuk Wilson’s work was shown at the Moscow Biennale.

The SMoCA Lounge (submitted photo)

Their art addresses personal issues and universal contemporary themes, and reflects ancient cultural traditions — Australian Aboriginal art dates back more than 40,000 years and is the oldest ongoing tradition of art in the world, the press release stated.

This exhibition illustrates the seismic shift that occurred in the contemporary Aboriginal art movement in the mid-1990s. Art has always been an important part of Aboriginal life, connecting past and present, the people and the land, and the supernatural and reality, according to the press release.

Contemporary Aboriginal artists tend to be organized in collectives, and until the 1980s, the collectives and the art market were dominated by men. Aboriginal societies have faced challenges, including drug and alcohol abuse, as well as a high mortality rate among men. By the end of the 1980s, more than half of the art production from Aboriginal communities was by women.

The exhibition also tells a story about a deep sisterhood that developed among these artists. Their art helps to hold their communities together and became a key component for the women to be able to maintain their social and economic independence.

Included in this internationally touring exhibition are 68 works drawn from the collection of Miami-based philanthropists Debra and Dennis Scholl. Many are being seen publicly for the first time.

The Scholls commissioned many of the works specifically for this exhibition, allowing some of the artists to work on a much larger scale than they previously had attempted, the press release stated.

SMoCA will show all of the artworks on tour and the exhibition will occupy half of the museum’s galleries.

“SMoCA is proud to bring this exhibition to Arizona,” said Sara Cochran, Ph.D., SMoCA’s director and chief curator, in the press release.

“Given the museum’s engagement with a plurality of contemporary artistic voices, we are excited for our audience to discover the unique and powerful work of these Aboriginal women. It is a wonderful opportunity to see a new frontier of contemporary art and understand how another culture contemplates and processes the essential questions of human existence and its place in the world. Their work is a testament to the creativity of older individuals.”

“Marking the Infinite” originated at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno under the guidance of William Fox, director of the Center for Art and Environment, and Henry Skerritt, curator of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Collection at the University of Virginia.

The 30-month exhibition debuted at New Orleans’ Newcomb Art Museum at Tulane University in New Orleans in August 2016, and was on view earlier this year at Miami’s Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University. In addition to SMoCA, the exhibition will travel to the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno; the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.; and the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, in Vancouver, B.C.

SMoCA is located in downtown Scottsdale at 7374 E. 2nd St.

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