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NAIDOC Week 2014

It’s NAIDOC Week!

Held annually from the first Sunday in July, NAIDOC Week is a celebration of all things awesome about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, history and achievements. Originally held solely within indigenous communities, NAIDOC Week is increasingly being recognised as an official event by schools, councils, government agencies and the wider non-Indigenous population. I love the motivation behind NAIDOC Week, so it warms my jaded little heart to see this becoming a valued and popular event on the cultural calendar.

I don’t mind admitting that it took me a while to discover just how deeply Aboriginal art resonates with me. When I was little, stories of the Rainbow Serpent and the Dreamtime made up a huge and thoroughly enjoyable part of my early education, but aboriginal culture was suspiciously absent as I got older and difficult questions about British colonisation and a generation stolen from their mothers meant that it was better to ignore anything with even a hint of indigeneity all together than risk confrontation. If you wanted to learn about indigenous art in those days you had to seek it out yourself, and which teenager cares about what’s happening in their own country when there’s so much more of the world to discover? So I did what most of us do and sought out inspiration in far flung places celebrated for their cultural heritage. Did I enjoy it? Sure. Did I have a blast and learn a lot? Absolutely. Does any of that classical European art make my heart sing the way a beautifully layered Minnie Pwerle or  Dorothy Napangardi can? Hell no.

Given its abstract nature, indigenous art was always going to have a rough time with an audience conditioned to appreciate more representational art, but these are so much more than just a bunch of ‘dot paintings’. The colours, patterns, movements and spirituality inherent in the works elevate them to something quite extraordinary. What’s more, the way contemporary indigenous artists are taking the traditions of their ancestors and putting their own stamp on age old techniques is endlessly fascinating to me.

As a New Zealand-born Australian with the whitest Irish/Scottish heritage you can imagine, it’s hard to describe the effect aboriginal art has on me without sounding like I’m being patronising, however my appreciation is sincere. I don’t profess to be an expert but there is something very intuitive and deep about my enjoyment of it, and I love that as an adult it sparks my imagination the way the stories of the Dreamtime did more than 30 years ago.

And you know the best part? When I was at GOMA last week, I watched a stream of children (it’s school holidays…eek!) running through the gallery and I was delighted to see how many children came to a screaming halt at one work in particular. “Look! Rainbow Serpent!” they called out in happy recognition, pointing at Lena Yarinkura’s piece from 2004. Seems some things never change.

Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent) 2004, Lena Yarinkura

Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent) 2004, Lena Yarinkura

I love that despite ignoring their pull for years, the stories and creations of my homeland finally won me over. So they should, they’ve lasted thousands of years already. What’s three decades more?

But enough of my ramblings! Here’s some links to what’s on for NAIDOC Week:

Official NAIDOC events calendar

Brisbane’s GOMA currently has a wonderful exhibition called Terrain: Indigenous Australian Objects and Representations which is full to bursting with some of the most beautiful examples of indigenous art and textiles of the gallery’s collection, and Queensland Art Gallery still has the brilliant Yirrkala Drawings on display until the 13th of July

Art After Hours Celebrates NAIDOC Week at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Patyegarang by Bangara Dance Theatre at the Sydney Opera House

NAIDOC in Sydney

Radio National

612ABC Brisbane

NAIDOC Awards Ceremony 11 July 2014, to be held in this year’s host city of the Gold Coast

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