On my birthday last month our wee family of four happened to be passing through Adelaide and visited the SA Museum to see the Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize. With much delight, we trawled the labyrinthine museum practically skipping from room to room calling out to each other “hey – come and look at this!” It has a true old museum feel and lots of the classic glass-cabinets stuffed with animals and birds of every description and drawers that can be pulled out with labelled bird skulls, cocoons, insects and even assorted scats. What a birthday treat!
The SA Museum has the most extraordinary indigenous exhibit. We were there for a few hours but could have stayed all day, wide-eyed in the dimly lit rooms, the buzz of Aboriginal voices and camp life being filtered through speakers wandering from a glass case of amazing painted bark buckets from the Tiwi Islands painted in geometric shapes to marvelling at rope made from human hair. There are cabinets full of throwing sticks with beautiful spoon-shaped ends used just for children’s games. There are large dug-out canoes and crazy felted feather ceremonial hats which are so creative and theatrical.
A two-storey wall is covered in these huge tin masks which were used at an inter-tribal gathering and later more than thirty were found by an anthropologist at Twelve Mile creek, Port Hedland in the Pilbara after lying abandoned for 6 years. (Can you imagine finding those?!) They were adapted from old corrugated iron and kerosene tins into images ancient and new; wheels, devils, donkeys and cows.
A recent talk by Canadian anthropologist, photographer and ethnobotanist, Wade Davis Why Ancient Wisdom Matters – Culture and Society – Browse – Big Ideas – ABC TV reminded me how skewed our education was about the history of our country. The essence of his talk is that other cultures aren’t failed attempts at being us, they are different answers to the question of what it means to be human. I love that.
Anyway I’ve started working on some vessels which remind me of the colours and shapes of those exhibits.
They are stitched palm sheath on a base of eucalypt. To me they represent wise ancient figures – a family of different colours standing together and can be sold alone or as a group. (Originally I wrote ‘live’ rather than ‘be sold’ so alive are they to me!) I am making as many as I can collect. I love how each one has a different accidental form and colour taken on during it’s growth.