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Art + Soul (2010)


Senior art curator Hetti Perkins travels across the country meeting with leading Aboriginal artists in an endeavour to answer some fundamental questions. Why do artists make art? Why do they share their stories of home or their journeys away, their dreams, their nightmares, and their experience of the bitter and the sweet? Written and presented by Perkins, Art + Soul is divided into three chapters, each representing the work of an artist or group of artists.

Episode one, Home and Away, introduces the legendary Papunya Tula and Western Arnhem Land artists and the groundbreaking work of Judy Watson, Destiny Deacon and Ricky Maynard. Episode two, Dreams and Nightmares, presents works by artists such as Lin Onus, the East Kimberley artists, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Kurlijunyintja Jackie Giles, Pedro Wonaeamirri, Brenda L Croft, Harry Wedge and Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Episode three, Bitter and Sweet, concludes the series with Tommy McRae, Hermannsburg artists, Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Rusty Peters, Mervyn Bishop, Charles Perkins’s story, Richard Bell, Michael Riley and North East Arnhem Land artists.

Curator’s notes

This eye-opening series provides an insight into the meaning of art and the role it plays in the maintenance of Aboriginal knowledge, traditions and unique worldview. Directed by Warwick Thornton, Art + Soul brings Aboriginal art and Australian landscapes to life, through the eyes of leading Aboriginal artists. In this series, Hetti Perkins embarks on a journey to visit Aboriginal artists in the places where they live and work, including the remote desert community of Walungurru (Kintore) in central Australia; Brisbane, Queensland; Western Arnhem Land, in the top end, Northern Territory; Melbourne, Victoria; the Coorong in South Australia; Flinders Island in Tasmania; and Kiwirrkurra in Western Australia.

The filmmakers use historic footage in episode one to great effect to provide an account of the Papunya Tula art movement. A home movie sequence showing Hetti, daughter of Charles Perkins, as a young child with her family visiting the Papunya community personalises and adds depth to the story.

Thornton, the cinematographer for all three episodes, presents the artworks, the landscapes and the night sky with stunning beauty. This powerful imagery portrays the interconnectivity between the natural and cultural worlds.

This series extends beyond representations of the artists and their artwork, by presenting the socio-political and cultural context in which the artists live and work. This enables a greater understanding of the complexities of their story and experience.

Episode two includes the story behind the famous painting by East Kimberley artist, Rover Thomas, Cyclone Tracy (1991). Patrick Mung Mung, from the Warmun community, in Gija country, explains the cultural significance of the artwork. Perkins aptly describes the painting as ‘the nightmare of the rainbow serpent’s fury. Cyclone Tracy funnelling everything in its path into a vortex of destruction.’ This alternate understanding of the cyclone and the reason behind its destructive force provides a glimpse into an Aboriginal cosmology and worldview.

Episode three, Bitter and Sweet, shows historic footage of Ntaria (Hermannsburg), NT, home of the most famous Aboriginal artist of all time, Albert Namatjira. This material includes images of the central Australian countryside painted by Namatjira, the Lutheran mission at Hermannsburg and Namatjira himself with easel at hand, painting a landscape.

Namatjira inspired many Aboriginal artists, including Ginger Riley Munduwalawala from Limmen Bight in Arnhem Land. Perkins introduces Riley as ‘the boss of colour’ and showcases his most spectacular paintings, depicting a bird’s eye view of his country.

Interviews with the artists provide the heart and soul of this series, which is full of treasures of wisdom and generosity and reflects the strength and beauty of Aboriginal peoples across Australia and the wealth of their cultural heritage. At the time of making the series, Hetti Perkins was curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

Art + Soul first screened on ABC1 on Thursday evenings at 8.30 pm. Home and Away screened on 7 October 2010, Dreams and Nightmares on 14 October 2010 and Bitter and Sweet on 21 October 2010.