Tuesday, March 29, 2011


FM, an anthropologist of the Pintupi, came to class today, and told us about his fieldwork there, starting in 1973. That was an interesting time, with doors closing and opening. On the one hand, an earlier anthropologist's breaking a promise not to reproduce images of an initiation ceremony (which ended up in a book which ended up in the hands of a Pintupi woman, who ended up with a spear through her thigh) meant that FM was not permitted to take notes or pictures of secret ceremonies, and so couldn't offer analyses of them - the heart of earlier ethnographies. On the other hand, the Papunya Tula arts movement had just begun, and FM became the friend of many of its great artists, people like Uta Uta Tjangala (above) and Shorty Lungkartja (right). It was wonderful to hear and see how the acrylic paintings emerged out of dreaming ceremonies - paintings like these are ravishing aesthetic objects, but hearing their stories brings in another dozen dimensions of wonder. (Shorty's picture, for instance, shows a great gathering of ancestors painting each other's bodies for a ceremony.) The two issues - sacred images and new artistic expressions - intersected in fascinating ways. In the water dreaming painting by Johnny Warangkula at left, for instance, ritual objects are hidden in plain sight. One of the most memorable images, however, showed a colorful painting with what appeared to be three black ovals on the diagonal: in fact, this was an early painting depicting sacred objects; FM had blacked them out as we have no business seeing them! That hit home even more than the catalog and website of the recent exhibition of early Papunya art, where several works are not shown.

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