The indigenous picture

For the first time, this year's Hutzot Hayotzer arts and crafts fair will offer a look at indigenous Australian works of art.

Indigenous Art 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Indigenous Art 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This year’s Hutzot Hayotzer arts and crafts fair will, for the first time, offer Israelis a close look at some of the works of art being produced by indigenous artists who live in the far northern reaches of Australia.
The artists in question come from West Arnhem Land (WAL), near the northeastern corner of mainland Australia, and from the Torres Strait Islands (TSI), which is a group of some 274 islands that nestles in between mainland Australia’s northern coast and Papua New Guinea.
Three Aboriginal artists from WAL – Djawida Nadjongorle, Jimmy Kalarriya Namarnyikk and Glen Namundja – as well as Solomon Booth from TSI, will attend the fair in Jerusalem and an exhibition at Studio Shifron in Old Jaffa. They will be accompanied by Anthony Murphy, who was recently appointed director of the Ngalmun Lagau Minaral (NLM) Art and Culture Center on Moa Island in TSI.
Even though they hail from the same part of the world and from an ethnic group that has managed to preserve its traditional way of life over many millennia, Murphy says that Nadjongorle, Namarnyikk and Namundja will provide visitors with insight into different aspects of the culture and traditions of the Kunwinjku language group of the Aborigine people.
“The observer can see the different styles and subtle nuances in their art, even though they are all Kunwinjku men of WAL,” he explains. “What is so special is that these men are traditional ceremony men, respected because of their unwavering dedication to ensuring that their art is of the highest integrity.”
According to Murphy, indigenous artists can be identified with a particular region based on the style of their work. “Every region of indigenous Australia is unique and produces art peculiar to that region. Before the Europeans arrived in Australia, there were more than 300 languages and countless dialects being spoken by indigenous Australians. Each area had its own stories, dreaming [an Aboriginal tradition], beliefs and art.
While providing only a small but effective insight into indigenous art, the art on show from TSI and WAL serves to highlight and celebrate this rich diversity. When it comes to tradition and historic longevity WAL has everyone beat. The artistic tradition and belief system there go back at least 40,000 years. “Nothing in world history comes close for continuity,” Murphy declares, adding that although techniques and materials are beginning to adapt to contemporary times, the final product still reflects a style that has been handed down faithfully across the generations.
“WAL attempts to keep to its traditions as much as possible, using natural materials and painting in the rock art style. No culture, however, is static. Injalak (WAL) artists now use Arches Paper in response to a need for a more portable medium than the stringy eucalyptus bark. Acrylics are used to expand the artists’ palette in the production of backgrounds. Both areas, but more so in TSI, use contemporary mediums, techniques and paints.”
Murphy and others are now getting the works of indigenous Australian artists out to other parts of the country and elsewhere around, and people are starting to visit some of the places where the work is produced. “Many tourists visit Injalak, although NLM is only starting out and is extremely difficult to get to,” says Murphy.
Next week, Israelis will have a rare chance to catch a glimpse of this fascinating work from much closer to home.