Earth Matters celebrates the significance of white ochre or gapan in Aboriginal artworks from the Kimberley, Arnhem Land and the Tiwi Islands. As a medium that is tied to tradition, white ochre, or gapan, offers opportunities for abstraction, minimalism and experimentation. The exhibition explores the enigmatic qualities and materiality of white earth pigments in paintings and three dimensional works by acclaimed and established Aboriginal artists. Artworks explore the interaction and connection between art, earth, culture and identity, as well as metaphysical and ancestral elements. Earth Matters includes both two dimensional and three dimensional works to demonstrate how artists adopt a range of innovative approaches to working with the material of white ochre or gapan as a medium that is tied to tradition yet also provides opportunity for abstraction, minimalism and experimentation.
Exhibiting art centres include Buku Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Bula Bula Arts, Maningrida Arts and Culture, Millingimbi Art Centre, Mowanjum Arts, Munupi Arts, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts and Warmun Art Centre. In many works, the reduced palette foregrounds line and form, with monochromatic and tonal values communicating a complex visual system of pictorial, creative, cultural and sculptural symbolism. Artist’s use of white organic material has been a way to engage with a more intimate sense of place, and connection to Country. Yet, the use in contemporary artwork simultaneously signals both creative and technical innovation, with artists working as technicians and alchemists utilising a wide range of different techniques, and materials, to produce new ideas, and artworks, creating new perceptions about culture, natural organic elements, and sustainability.
Earth Matters was opened by the Treasurer and Minister for Finance, Energy and Aboriginal Affairs, the Hon Ben Wyatt MLA and Meath Hammond, Head of BHP Billiton Corporate Affairs WA on Friday, 29th September at The Goods Shed. The show will exhibit until March 2018.
“Gapaṉ (White Ochre) is not just used to paint contemporary fine art that could wind up in New York or Berlin. But also to paint the hair, foreheads and torsos of living people. Babies, young men, old ladies. Every second day someone comes in to collect gapaṉ to be used in ceremony.
It is symbolic of so many things in the lexicon of the poetic Yolŋu universe. The seafoam which coated the ancestral women as they paddled to Australia to give birth to the first nations. The clouds which stand as memorials to the spirits of lost ones who rise as vapour from the ocean’s deep horizon. The wisdom of age and the skin of the land.
At the heart of the differing views between our two cultures is a schism in the understanding of land. For Yolŋu it is alive. It has bones; the ŋaraka, made of ancestral foundations which cannot be shifted.” – Will Stubbs- Buku Larrnggay Mulka Centre