Shadows on the rocks - networking Aboriginal rock art
(Heidelberg University )
Paper short abstract:
This paper presents the multiple potentialities through which Aboriginal rock art comes into being. By unfolding the versatile network through which those images circulate I will address the durability and continuity of Aboriginal practise in face of local and global challenges.
Paper long abstract:
There are two rock art traditions in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The Wandjina paintings - anthropomorphic figures, creator spirits that left their 'shadows' on rock surface where they entered the earth after creating the landscape. The second are the Gwion Gwions - figurative paintings of people, 'shadow images' that through thousands of years have seem impregnated into the rock with no apparent trace of pigment. These ancient indigenous paintings have inspired fantasies of primitive art, their location in caves fascinated viewers by the interplay of light and darkness that distinguishes their vivid beauty. Their cultural vitality resonates in contemporary Aboriginal art production. Yet in art history, rock art stands at the periphery, while their primarily static condition of immobility on rock creates an invisibility that has been curse and blessing. In this paper, I will explore these rock pictures potentialities of which 'art' is just one amongst many. Other potentials in which those images come into being are amongst others 1) evidence of indigenous occupation in land claims, 2) public icon of Aboriginal heritage, 4) samples in archaeological research and 5) registered trademark. In such a versatile network of actors, the images prove a recalcitrance, as political theorist Jane Bennett puts it; the vitality of matter becomes apparent as potentially disruptive and/or productive force. In this paper, I want to take a detailed look at this force of the matter at hand: figurative images that materially manifest through the presence of red, yellow and white ochre on sand- and limestone.
Shadows of the present: generative ambivalences across art, heritage, and materiality