Out of bounds

Thuringowa Annual Indigenous exhibition 1999
Pinnacles Gallery, Thuringowa

An annual exhibition devoted to North and Far North Queensland Indigenous art is part of the popular community- focused program of Thuringowa City Council's Pinnacles Gallery. This year's exhibition, Out of Bounds, included art from the Lockhart River 'Art Gang', and Townsville/Thuringowa-based Indigenous artists including TAFE students and the Behind Barbed Wire artist's group of Mount Stuart Prison.

The Lockhart River Community, eight hundred strong, is a remote district cluster of now loosely defined clans living between beach and rainforest over eight hundred kilometres north of Cairns. It is a community in which strangers and those not connected to local family cannot escape notice. From before 'time' these clans lived in small groups along this coast, until missionary intervention in 1924. Traditional hunting and fishing are still a part of daily life, and dance performance is characterised by the swish of traditional long grass skirts.

Lockhart River's 'Art Gang' artists work through the community's cultural centre. They presently have access to a print studio, dark room, computer facilities, to visiting artists-in-residence and to Cairns TAFE art programs. Their work addresses the community, culture, and environment of Lockhart River today. An example of this work in the exhibition is Many Generations by Rosella Namok, a white on white screen print of 1000 x 700 mm, silky-surfaced, sleekly hypnotic and luminous. Made up of concentric oblong ovals, this image celebrates the belief that generations of family form a series of protective circles around Namok's new young son, her nephew and niece. The upright ovals also reference the female principle and the fading larger circles at the edge represent fading contact with the older generations. The result is a skilled multi-layered use of symbolism.

Namok's work contrasts with 'rawer' works that display little influence of professional white artists. In Murri (Queensland Indigenous) art it is not impossible to find the dot mixed with the cross-hatchings of the 'Top End' (Arnhemland) regions, reflecting the mixed heritage of many artists - a legacy of white colonisation. Use of clear blacks, reds, yellows, whites and greens can imply Kaurareg (Torres Strait Island) heritage, while use of cool aquatic colours with marine motifs, generally implies some Kanak or Pacific South Sea Island heritage. Such an artist is Townsville-based William Baker who is largely self-taught and represents no particular group, simply presenting his own unique blend of 'mixed relations', and seeking to reinforce his connection with nature-based tradition. Baker uses both warm earthen and cool aquatic colours with natural skill. He carefully arranges and layers large and small dots, as perfectly rounded as bubbles. The scale of his marine and animal motifs is exaggerated according to their importance, however at times unplanned composition can sit uneasily with painstaking technique.

According to Baker, it is important to indicate the specific type of bird, fish or animal one paints, and also its meaning in the natural world. He explains that while mixed heritage and changing cultures need acknowledgment, works such as the untitled image from Mornington Island's E. Gavener, of simple silhouetted figures rhythmically dancing with spears and boomerangs, are like 'pure gold' in that they show the least possible cultural rupture -a direct link with timeless tradition is 'something to be envied'. For Baker, the exhibition title Out of Bounds refers both to what is 'out of bounds' to 'white world' understanding and use, and what is 'out of bounds' to mainstream recognition and acceptance.

Young Townsville-based exhibitors Wayne Walsh, Richard Lampton, and Aaron Mow, freely explore an unbounded range of styles and subjects. Walsh who was reared on Palm Island has 'Out West' Kalkadoon heritage and his work ranges from marine motifs to elaborate connection patterns using dots. Lampton's works use saltwater crocodile and barramundi motifs, along with his own Birri Gubba clan brolga and serpent emblems. Walsh and Lampton acknowledge fishing and camping as an important part of their childhood. While Aaron Mow of lnnisfail claims Murri, South Sea and Malay heritage, he insists he is a 'City Boy ... terrified of snakes, never paints animals, won't be found out in the bush ... Brisbane or Sydney is more like it, plenty of family there too'. Mow's art has moved towards a Basqiet-like 'street art' palette and centres firmly on human emotion. He has adopted the hand print, symbolising the need to reach through barriers in time and space.