Indigenous Kimberley artists use new tools to tell old story for Art Gallery of WA exhibition

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February 09, 2019 09:38:16

More than 40 Indigenous Kimberley artists and their works are being brought together by the Art Gallery of Western Australia in a culmination of years of collaboration between artists, art centres and curators.

Key points:

  • The Sibosado brothers have created a 1.8-metre pearl shell and steel sculpture
  • The artwork tells the traditional story of the “Aalingoon” or Rainbow Snake
  • The sculpture is part of the Desert River Sea: Portraits of the Kimberley exhibition

And the exhibition is set to showcase a special connection to country and culture created by two West Kimberley artists and brothers.

Garry and Darrell Sibosado from the Lombadina community are from the Bard people, who have lived on the Dampier Peninsula for thousands of years — long before white settlement.

Through their artwork, the brothers tell the traditional story of the “Aalingoon”, or the Rainbow Snake, which rose from the earth and shed its scales, which then transformed into the pearl shells scattered on the coastal reefs in Bard country.

“The people would go onto the reefs and get the pearl shell and turn them into ornaments for ceremony and dance, and as gifts,” Garry Sibosado said.

“And they draw symbols on the shell and you see the symbols are on the serpent as well.”

It is this special connection which is showcased through an ambitious joint project incorporating the gallery, Perth Festival, six community arts centres and artists.

Eight special commissions, including a 1.8-metre pearl shell and steel sculpture from the Sibosados, will be presented alongside 150 old and new works from Indigenous artists from the Kimberley region, to showcase the diversity of Indigenous artists in the community.

Mr Sibosado said the collaboration was a culmination of hard work for all those involved in the project.

“It’s been a long time in the making and the results are beautiful,” he said.

“I am honoured to be part of the exhibition and to represent my tribe back home. They’d be pretty proud of that.”

From hard bone to power tools

Mr Sibosado received permission from Bard elders to replicate symbols which have been passed down over hundreds of generations for thousands of years.

Thanks to modern technology, the intricate symbols representing whales, sea turtles and other creatures are far easier to reproduce than in centuries past.

But it is still time-consuming work, with Mr Sibosado first cleaning and buffering the pearl shells before he can begin to carve the Riji designs.

“I cut into the pearl shell and I’ve inlaid ochre into where I have cut, and I have done Riji designs onto them,” he said.

“I use an electrical tool, a power tool now with [a] diamond cutting tool, but back in the day they used to use hard bone to cut into the shell.

“This took me a couple of months to make, getting the shell to polish the way I wanted it to and then carving it out. It was a long process.”

His older brother, Darrell Sibosado, replicated the same design in the joint commission sculpture, but used metal and cork rather than delicate pearl shell.

“We knew we wanted to do something big, when we finally decided on doing this story it was like, ‘Now how do we do it?’,” he said.

“Garry just started carving … and he is such a great carver … so I decided to do my version or perception of the story.

“I tried to tie it with the technique and the style we use traditionally, we use all these lines and mazes. In the Bard people [style] there is always three lines, so I have tried to stick with that.”

A diverse offering of Indigenous art

Darrell Sibosado said the exhibition was a chance for people to see the breadth and diversity of Indigenous art from the region.

“People need to realise that it’s like going to Europe. In Australia, there are different clans, different tribes, different languages,” he said.

“It’s good that people acknowledge it now instead of lumping everyone in one box.”

The exhibition’s co-curators, Carly Lane and Emilia Galatis, said the gallery worked closely with Indigenous groups and communities.

“We’ve done a lot of trips to the Kimberley, we’ve spoken to people and we’ve really made sure that they know the story they were telling within this space,” Ms Galatis said.

Ms Lane said she hoped it would promote Kimberley artists and their work.

“I hope people reflect on what this show is and the diversity that it expresses about people and culture,” she said.

Desert River Sea: Portraits of the Kimberley runs from February 9 until May 27 at the Art Gallery of WA as part of Perth Festival 2019.

Topics:

indigenous-culture,

indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander,

arts-and-entertainment,

contemporary-art,

aboriginal,

perth-6000,

broome-6725,

wa



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