Art has always been a big part of my life. Both my parents were ballet dancers and once my athletic career slowed down I became a dancer too. It almost seemed inevitable for me to gain an appreciation for art. Although, I don’t mean appreciation in the academic sense. I really wouldn’t be able to tell you much about any artist or art history, but if if you put a great piece of art in front of me I will appreciate it on an emotional level. I’ve always enjoyed those pieces, which were capable of eliciting an emotional response of some sort and as a personal favorite I love art, which keeps me looking without me actually knowing why I am unable to look away.
Earlier this month we went on a class fieldtrip to an Australian Aboriginal museum. The museum tour was interesting, but this kind of art isn’t really my cup of tea. There isn’t anything inherently worse about it, I just have a personal preference for more contemporary styles. However, interestingly enough the exhibit did linger in the back of my mind for a few days. The thing that stuck with me was the section of the exhibit, where contemporary artists were creating art work with contemporary materials, but in the style and technique of aboriginal art. It almost seemed as though these artists were writing an eulogy for a dead culture, even though aboriginal culture isn’t dead. So, I investigated why I felt the way I did. The ultimate conclusion I drew from what I experienced in the museum was that I felt the way I did because when people talk about aboriginal culture they do talk as if it is a dead culture. A brief summary of the tour will illuminate what I mean. The tour started with an acknowledgement of country, which are a few sentences acknowledging that the land we were standing on once belonged to ancestors of an aboriginal culture. So, the beginning of the tour already points to aboriginal culture being something relevant mainly in the past. Next, we proceeded to get a brief history of the mistreatment of aborigines and the negative consequences of this mistreatment. Again, no mention of any aspect of aboriginal culture thriving at the present time, just more of past relevance and current struggles. This history lesson then ended with a talk about how great these cultures used to be and their almost futile current struggle to gain recognition and relevance. So, as you can see the whole tour was, perhaps unintentionally, set up in a way that one would recognize the impressiveness of these cultures in the past and at the same time see their bitter struggle for survival in the present. Thus, by the time I arrived at the contemporary imitations of the past art, it almost seemed like these artists were trying to show the world the greatest artistic moments of these cultures with a hint of nostalgia toward past times.
In essence I felt as if the artists were telling me that the culture is dead, so we have to at least preserve the knowledge and beauty that they once possessed, in order to prevent the culture from fading into complete oblivion.
- Timbery shell bridge: National Museum Australia