Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Artists Keep their Ancestry Alive

This past December, esteemed collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl presented their annual Art Basel in Miami Beach exhibition with a focus on a recent passion: contemporary Australian Aboriginal art. The works were chosen by Henry F. Skerritt, an Australian curator who told The Art Newspaper: “These are not ‘primitive’ or ‘ethnographic’ objects. They are works of art that address the most pressing question of our time: how do we conceive the unity of the planet and the diversity of worlds it contains?”

Australian Aboriginal art, belonging to one of the longest continuous cultures on Earth, began as early as 50,000 years ago and is deeply intertwined with spiritual traditions and beliefs, particularly their creation story, known as “the Dreaming”. Although many of these artworks are abstract—often comprising a network of lines and dots—they employ a visual language that represents the spiritual underpinnings of Aboriginal culture. Contemporary Aboriginal art emerged in the second half of the 20th-century—most prominently in 1971 at the Papunya settlement—when traditions of cave paintings and sand drawings were replaced by the introduction of canvas and acrylic paint.

Sydney’s Wentworth Galleries shows the works of prominent and foundational contemporary Aboriginal artists, many of whom share familial ties. The late Emily Kame Kngwarreye, known for her dynamic paintings of vibrant, curvilinear networks, was an extremely noteworthy artist from the remote village Utopia. Though she began painting at an elderly age, she gained high esteem through the 3,000 paintings she created in an eight-year career. Her half brother Kudditji Kngwarreye is also highly regarded, as is her niece Gloria Petyarre, each of whom share her sense of color, but differ stylistically. Also of note are sisters Barbara Weir and Betty Mbitjana, and Yinarupa Nangala, the daughter of one of the original Papunya artists. While furthering ancestral traditions, through bold use of color and original abstract compositions these artists simultaneously forge a place for contemporary Australian Aboriginal art in the global market.

Explore Wentworth Galleries on Artsy.