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Review: Marking the Infinite at Newcomb Art Museum

Abstract works from contemporary women artists from aboriginal Australia

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Lately, there have been a lot of art shows in New Orleans featuring the work of women artists dealing with contemporary identity issues. This group exhibit of nine mostly elderly female Australian Aborigines artists takes a slightly different approach, focusing on Mother Nature. Their subjects range from flora and fauna to the sea, the stars and the heavens that typically comprise much traditional aboriginal art, but the inventive and personal touch these artists bring to those themes makes them true contemporary artists. The way these works often seem to parallel modern abstraction may be partly because they are from the holdings of contemporary art collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl. But it also is true that "modern art" has been profoundly influenced by tribal art since its inception.

  Nonggirrnga Marawili is a case in point. Her painted poles (pictured) hark to traditional aboriginal subjects like lightning, fire, water or rock and feature the angular, boldly rendered forms associated with German expressionism. But Marawili's work is, in her words, "coming from the heart and mind" rather than from the time-honored traditions of tribal elders. Angelina Pwerle's paintings (pictured, background) are made up of complex patterns of white dots on expansive minimal red or black fields. Her shimmering dots actually refer to the bush plum, a staple food associated with the visionary dream experiences of the "songlines" legacy of tribal traditions that unite the landscape and its bounty with the stars and the cosmos. Similar white dots on red expanses appear in Carlene West's paintings, but hers often surround elongated swatches of white representing a vast salt lake that figures prominently in the artist's personal experiences as well as in tribal legends, while also recalling modern Western pop abstraction. But the most radical departure would have to be Nyapanyapa Yunupingu's Light Paintings on acetate, a series of 124 drawings that morph and merge in computer-generated patterns governed by complex algorithms. Apparently not even the Australian nature spirits are immune to the digital age.

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