Although I did not realize it until now, art has been a subtle yet constant aspect of my entire Australian experience thus far. It was at the end of my very first week of classes here in Sydney, that I stumbled upon an art gallery on my walk back from Science House (NYU’s academic building here in Sydney). This art gallery was nestled on the corner of a relaxed street in the middle of the bustling Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). This particular street had been blocked off to cars, allowing plenty of room for the fountain, street performers, and strolling pedestrians to set a slower pace than the rest of the busy city. With the sound of a guitar in the background, in the moment it took me back to my first weekend during my previous semester abroad in Florence, where the streets were silent and calm, except for the soothing sound of a street musician. In Florence the art was embedded in the old city itself, while here in Sydney it was tucked away in a small art gallery.
Ever curious, I strolled into the Wentworth Art Gallery, ready to admire the artistic creations that others had worked so hard to have mounted on the walls. There were of course beautiful renditions of the Australian countryside, including paintings of beaches and the outback of this huge continent. What intrigued me most of all, however, was the section in the far back dedicated entirely to Aboriginal Australian art. Having just arrived in Sydney at the moment, my knowledge of the Aboriginal culture was limited and so I feel that I did not truly appreciate what I was encountering before my eyes in that moment.
The paintings I saw were of beautiful patterns and designs, using mainly earthy tones in contrast with bright colors. It was not difficult to see and appreciate the surface beauty of the aboriginal paintings, but it is not until now that I can really marvel at the cultural meaning behind these pieces of art. Through my studies and experience here in Sydney, I have learned that the Aboriginal Australian culture (and thus its art) is the oldest surviving culture in the history of humanity. This is to say that the art that I witnessed in this art gallery just a few months ago is from the same culture that existed on this earth up to over 60,000 years ago! I can hardly wrap my head around such a phenomenal thought!
Since my initial interaction with Aboriginal Art in that tiny art gallery, I have been more atuned to noticing aboriginal art scattered throughout the city and in the outback. There’s a “bush walk” (hike through nature) right out of Sydney, in fact, where you can hike to caves with ancient Aboriginal art still on the walls. I can readily admit that if I had not traveled to Sydney, I probably would never have been able to appreciate the oldest surviving art on this planet.
P.s. I even took an Aboriginal Art booklet from the Gallery to decorate my walls