Painting the Dreaming

Imago Mundi

Australian Aboriginal Paintings from the Central and Western Deserts

Catalogue of the Imago Mundi Collection "Painting The Dreaming", Australian Aboriginal Paintings from the Central and Western Deserts, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
Travelling with the Dreamings: A Passionate Commitment to Aboriginal Australia
I was introduced to Aboriginal culture initially as a collector of early artefacts and shields from the Australasian region. I was a great admirer of the power of their form and decorative intricacy of their carved surfaces. Their history was also of great interest and it seemed somehow to resonate with my knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy. By 2003, my attention shifted as I became increasingly fascinated by the extraordinary paintings from Central and Western Desert peoples that were then appearing. I was also mindful of comments that were being made by international critics that despite its newfound presence on the world stage, Aboriginal art remained a mystery. It seemed that little was known about Australian Aboriginal art and that it was extremely undervalued.
Caroline Williams - Kangaroo Dreaming, Caroline Williams, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Caroline Williams - Kangaroo Dreaming (2012)
At this time, I became fully committed to it as an area of my collecting, eventually launching my business, Agathon Galleries, in Melbourne. This was an exclusive outlet to showcase the diversity of this artistic expression locally and then eventually to introduce it to collectors in overseas markets. By 2004, I was working almost exclusively with Irrunytju Arts Centre in one of the remotest parts of desert country in Western Australia. I was holding regular exhibitions of Irrunytju artists’ work and my relationship with Yannima Pikarli Tommy Watson, the region’s most esteemed artist, was in its early stages.
I eventually became his son through ceremony and his exclusive dealer. Not long after this, I was tribally initiated within the Ngaanyatjarra people and in keeping with this role, took on the lifelong responsibility to support these people and their culture

Yuyuya Nampitjinpa - Untitled, Yuyuya Nampitjinpa, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Yuyuya Nampitjinpa - Untitled (2012)

Coleen Wallace Nungurayi - Untitled, Coleen Wallace Nungurayi, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Coleen Wallace Nungurayi - Untitled (2012)

Jimmy Marshall - Untitled, Jimmy Marshall, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Jimmy Marshall - Untitled (2012)

The process of initiation came as a result of my expressed interest in the culture and in letting the Aboriginal men that I was close to know that I would like to become initiated. I had spent much time with them in their lands, learning about their traditional ways, and had started to learn the Pitjantjatjarra language. One day, while attending a ceremony as a guest, I was “jumped” when four Aboriginal men grabbed me by the arms, bundled me into a car and drove me into the desert to a remote and sacred location for what was to be my initiation. This surprise event is the traditional way that an initiation is organized. The ceremony took three weeks and after returning to civilization after this period, it was completed a month later during a final two-week session at another more distant location. Everything that took place over those times cannot be spoken about as it falls within the secret and sacred according to Aboriginal law. I now attend ceremony when the occasions are judged to be appropriate and am regularly in contact with these people.

Mandy Adamson - Untitled, Mandy Adamson, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Mandy Adamson - Untitled (2012)

Karen Bird - Untitled, Karen Bird, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Karen Bird - Untitled (2012)

Since my initiation, internationally promoting Aboriginal culture through its art has become a moral obligation and a priority. It was with great pleasure therefore that I accepted Luciano Benetton’s invitation to organize an educational, not-for-profit exhibition of Aboriginal work in Venice. To ensure that a number of interesting and informed contemporary perspectives on Aboriginal art were part of the show, I arranged for essays to be written for this publication by Aboriginal-art historian and curator, Marie Geissler; contemporary art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, John McDonald; author of many books and national indigenous art critic for The Australian newspaper, Nicholas Rothwell and managing director of Yanda Aboriginal Art, Christopher Simon.

Nyungalka Sitzler - Untitled, Nyungalka Sitzler, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Nyungalka Sitzler - Untitled (2012)

Lance Peck - Untitled, Lance Peck, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Lance Peck - Untitled (2012)

My curatorial focus for the exhibition is the art from the lands of Central and Western Deserts of Australia and associated regions where I have worked for many years. My relationships with the people from these areas are wide ranging and through these I have been able to gain support and advice from the traditional owners of the lands for the inclusion of their artists for the show, an approach which has allowed me to bypass the art-world politics of the art centres. Importantly, the elders are all very pleased that through the agency of the Benetton exhibition, international audiences will get to know their artists and Aboriginal culture will be promoted in positive ways.

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa - Untitled, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa - Untitled (2012)

Selina Kulitja - Untitled, Selina Kulitja, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Selina Kulitja - Untitled (2012)

Doreen Nolan - Untitled, Doreen Nolan, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Doreen Nolan - Untitled (2012)

The reaction of the artists to painting in the small format required for the exhibition was predictably varied. None had been asked to paint such a small painting and some would really have preferred to have worked on a larger scale, an approach in keeping with their subject matter, which is usually an “abstract” rendition of the huge spaces of their country. However, in most cases, after several attempts, they fell into the spirit of the commission and completed a work to their satisfaction. And while some artists did reflect the character that typified their usual styles, some didn’t. Instead, they responded highly innovatively, painting images that were related but quite different to the manner in which they normally paint.

Helen McCarthy - Untitled, Helen McCarthy, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Helen McCarthy - Untitled (2012)

Margaret Lewis Napangardi - Untitled, Margaret Lewis Napangardi, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Margaret Lewis Napangardi - Untitled (2012)

Shakira Spencer - Untitled, Shakira Spencer, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Shakira Spencer - Untitled (2012)

The project took many months to bring together. I visited the remotest areas of the desert region covering over 16,000 kilometres by road, using a four-wheel-drive vehicle, often travelling on unpaved dirt tracks in searing desert temperatures. We visited Warakurna, Wanarn, Blackstone, Mimili, Fregon, Ernabella, Mount Liebig, Yuendumu, Balgo, Kintore, Kiwirrkurra, Warburton, Warmun, Haasts Bluff, Hermannsburg, Tjuntjuntjara, Patjarr, Docker River, Mutitjulu, Kalka, Punmu, Alice Springs and Utopia. Some communities were visited several times as the artists we wanted were not there on the first visit. In the end most of the artists I wished to work with painted for the exhibition. If not all of the great desert artists are represented this is due mostly to logistical reasons. I always travelled with several senior Aboriginal men who were connected to the communities we were visiting and who had made arrangements in advance for us to visit. Fabian Conti, a close friend and supporter who has worked with the desert artists for many years, also accompanied me on most expeditions and gave me enormous support for which I am most grateful.

Ruby James - Untitled, Ruby James, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Ruby James - Untitled (2012)

Gloria Petyarre - Untitled, Gloria Petyarre, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Gloria Petyarre - Untitled (2012)

Nora Davidson - Untitled, Nora Davidson, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Nora Davidson - Untitled (2012)

I would like to thank and acknowledge all the artists who are in the exhibition who so willingly contributed their work.

George Ward Tjungurrayi - Untitled, George Ward Tjungurrayi, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

George Ward Tjungurrayi - Untitled (2012)

Sandra Mick - Untitled, Sandra Mick, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Sandra Mick - Untitled (2012)

I would also like to acknowledge Marie Geissler for all her writing and assistance with the project, including the detailed biographical entries for the publication. Also thanks to the other essayists, John McDonald, Nicholas Rothwell and Christopher Simon both for their writing and encouragement for the project.

Rosanne Morton Petyarre - Untitled, Rosanne Morton Petyarre, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Rosanne Morton Petyarre - Untitled (2012)

Chloe Barns – Untitled, Chloe Barns, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Chloe Barns – Untitled (2012)

Finally, my thanks to the generosity and visionary cultural leadership of Luciano Benetton for choosing to focus on the art of Aboriginal Australians in his private collection and give them his support. It has been a great pleasure to work with him and have had the opportunity to curate this collection of Aboriginal art. I trust that the insights and enjoyment gained from viewing
the exhibition will touch those who see it and encourage them into a wider exploration of the fascinating world that Aboriginal art represents.

John Ioannou
Curator and director of Agathon Galleries, Australia.

Yaritji Young - Untitled, Yaritji Young, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Yaritji Young - Untitled (2012)

Credits: Story

Curation and direction
John Ioannou

Valentina Granzotto

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
John Ioannou
Marie Geissler
John Mcdonald
Nicholas Rothwell
Christopher Simon

Research for the artists profiles
Marie Geissler

Editing and translations
Anna Franchin (Italian)
Tom Ridgway (English)
Demetrio De Stefano

Art direction
Namyoung An

Enrico Bossan (P. 48, P. 50)
James Mollison (P. 47, P. 49, P. 51)
Marco Pavan (Artworks)

Mauro Bedoni

Tommy Watson - Untitled

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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