Australian Aboriginal Art In The International Spotlight

The thing about art (one of the things, at least) is that it is entirely subjective. You love it or you hate it. You’d pay the earth for to have it in your living room or you wouldn’t take even it if you were paid the earth. Sometimes, however, art unites people. It may not unite them in taste, but it unites them in pride. Take, for example, Lena Nyadbi’s roof art, which can now be seen from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

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Lena Nyadbi is one of the most renowned and respected Aboriginal artists to emerge from Warmun, Western Australia. Her Parisian triumph, which is simply the latest in a career that took off in 1998, has united art aficionados and people who just ‘know what they like’ from all over Australia. According to The Australian, the rooftop artwork (which spans 700 square metres) is a recreation of one of Nyadbi’s (much smaller) original pieces that will be displayed in the Musee du Quai Branly (or the Quai Branly Museum), which favours art and artefacts from indigenous cultures around the world.

A Quick Word about Lena Nyadbi

Lena Nydabi is from Walmanjilukum, which is in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It’s the kind of place that wouldn’t attract a second glace, except for the fact that it consistently produces talented artists, whose work is showcased at the Warmun Art Centre. Nyadbi was over 60 years old before she started painting full time in 1998 (for the Warnum Art Centre), but she’s loved art all her life. Her subject matter of choice is Dreaming (Ngarrangkarni), especially Dreaming stories from Jimbala, which is her father’s home country.

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Warnum Art Centre

The Warnum Art Centre was established specifically to showcase talented artists in the region, and to bring Gija Aboriginal art to the public’s attention. It is owned by the regional artists who plough 100% of the revenue generated by sales back into the community. It’s attained national recognition not only for shining the spotlight on Aboriginal art, but also for preserving the local indigenous cultural heritage.

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It showcases work from established and emerging artists of all ages who use traditional and contemporary art styles.

The centre was in serious danger of shutting its doors for good after massive floods devastated the Warnum region in 2011. While the Warnum Art Centre didn’t suffer extensive damage, a number of the artworks were destroyed and things looked very bleak indeed. Fortunately, the community wasn’t prepared to kiss their culture and history goodbye. For the two years up to March 2013, artists from the centre, and students from the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation (CCMC) worked tirelessly to restore all of the works of art that were damaged. The works were returned to the centre in April, to the tremendous relief of the Warnum Art Centre, the community, and everyone who values indigenous art.

Warnum Region

Warnum is roughly 200km from Kununurra, which is one of the biggest cities in Western Australia, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region. It’s worth noting that given the country’s vastness, 200km is hardly any distance at all. It could be considered a pleasant day trip, in fact. According to Wikipedia, Warnum is home to the Gija people, but it’s not so cliquey that you won’t find Aboriginals from other language groups.

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It is, as we have shown, well-known for its indigenous art, but it also has a dark history (which mirrors much of Australia’s history), which is marked by unbelievable cruelty, as the Aboriginal people were nearly wiped out by British settlers. When the people aren’t busying themselves with art, they tend to live quiet pastoral lives – although the influx of art lovers is starting to turn Warnum into something of a tourist hub in its own right.

If you love art, or you’re looking for something interesting to see and do off Australia’s beaten track (and, let’s be honest, much of Australia is off the beaten track), then you should find your way to Warnum in Western Australia. You can appreciate the rugged beauty of the region, as well as the beautiful representations of the indigenous Aboriginal culture – not to mention the friendliness of the local people.

Jemima Winslow is not an art aficionado, but she knows what she likes and she likes art that reflects interesting cultures. She has often considered taking an art appreciation course, if only to give art the admiration it deserves. You can find short art appreciation TAFE courses in WA, Australia on Now Learning, which also promotes a variety of certificates, diplomas, and degrees.