STONY BROOK, N.Y., September 19, 2007 — “Our Way, Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Lockhart River,” the first ever exhibition to survey the work of young Aboriginal artists from Australia’s tropical northeast, will debut at Stony Brook University on Long Island (New York) from Friday, October 12 to Friday, November 16. The official grand opening of the exhibition – for which Stony Brook has the North American premiere – will be Wednesday, October 17, and will feature the participation of two of the Aboriginal artists whose work is featured, and Sally Butler, the exhibition’s curator from The University of Queensland in Australia. (Editor’s note: A special preview luncheon with the artists and curator will be held for the press on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 12 noon).
The groundbreaking exhibition, comprising 42 works which confront and break down long-held stereotypes about Aboriginal culture, will be held in the university’s Charles Wang Center on the main campus, Nicolls Road in Stony Brook. It is the first major exhibit at the Wang Center. In a mark of its importance to the promotion of contemporary Indigenous art, the exhibition is generously supported by both the Queensland and Australian governments.
“We are privileged to host this exceptional exhibition as it debuts in the U.S.,” said Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenny. “It offers a unique insight into Aboriginal life, from the perspectives of youths who are living that life.”
The group of artists, first known as the Lockhart River Art Gang, took up art-making as part of an inspired education and vocational initiative in 1994. The group now forms the nucleus of a thriving art scene in the region.
“Lockhart River Aboriginal art is one of the most important discoveries in Australian contemporary art because it confronts stereotypes about Aboriginal culture that still persist in the 21st century,” said Dr. Butler. “The dual consciousness of Lockhart River artists derives from young Aboriginal people who have been brought up with traditional Aboriginal insight and, at the same time, a worldly outlook. The artists are inherently bi-cultural, but this in no way diminishes their Aboriginality.”
Dr. Butler said that it is impossible for audiences to maintain a “primitive attitude to Aboriginal culture when they look at this art. There is too much of their own Western world in the art to simply dwell on inaccurate notions of a preserved past residing in their art.”
The Lockhart River artists capture the spectacular beauty of life on the coast of the Great Barrier Reef but they also confront the realities of remote community life for Aboriginal people, Dr. Butler explained. The signature painting, “Bust ‘Im Up Again,” is a “graphic mindscape of blood, bruising and emotional distress. It is Samantha Hobson’s way of dealing with what goes wrong in a community where unemployment and alcoholism have a death-grip on people’s hope for the future.
Audiences will recognize the style as abstract expressionism and identify with the pain that the artist feels, but in the context of this exhibition they will also get a real sense of the strength of these young Aboriginal people and how they are negotiating the contemporary global world on their own uniquely Aboriginal terms. This is why the exhibition is called ‘Our Way.’”
The exhibition also surveys a remarkable education initiative for remote Indigenous communities that began with a group of 20 to 30 teenagers and culminated in three internationally recognized artists and a thriving Art and Cultural Center, which markets hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art every year.
“The way that the Lockhart River community tackled the problems of post-elementary education and employment in remote communities offers a model for similar communities around the world,” Dr. Butler noted. “The book that accompanies the exhibition tells this particular story, and considers why their art is such a radical development in our understandings of ‘authentic’ cultural tradition and how we negotiate the past in the present.”
The achievement of “Our Way: Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Lockhart River” is twofold, according to Will Owen, an Indigenous art writer and reviewer from North Carolina. “As its subtitle suggests, it delineates how this art is both contemporary and Aboriginal, and “the genius…is the means by which these two strains in art, in culture, and in society can be successfully interwoven. But even more, ‘Our Way’ makes it obvious that this important retrospective of the work of the Lockhart River Art Gang is overdue. And that is a remarkable statement to make about a body of work that is really only 10 years old. Since I first became aware of the work from Lockhart River, I have heard critics who would suggest that the Art Gang is a flash in the pan, the fluke of youth, or a successful, if calculated, marketing maneuver. The evolution displayed in this exhibition makes it clear that the work represents a solid and important artistic achievement. The strength and inventiveness of Lockhart River is proudly on display here, and should be the occasion for great rejoicing.”
For more information on the exhibition at Stony Brook, contact 631-632-6320.