Indigenous paintings are maps of the artists’ country. They trace the land’s topography, but also contain personal history, mythology and Dreaming tracks. Aboriginal paintings feature maps of a specific area, mythology, personal history and storytelling. Summary by Damien Parer.
Painting Country is an engaging work, offering accessible explanations of Aboriginal art. The painters are among the most respected artists in Australia and their gentle wisdom and dignity makes the viewing experience so much richer.
Balgo is a centre for Aboriginal painters in the remote north of Western Australia. The artists originally come from hundreds of kilometres around the area. They decide to go on a painting trip to their home lands after many years away. Painting Country follows the off-road vehicles on their journey as the artists recall their country and meet relations.
Notes by Damien Parer
The strength of this documentary is that it allows the audience to access the ancient philosophy framing these Indigenous artists’ works. It allows us to see that the Indigenous artists involved in this documentary are reliving and recording lived experience, knowledge and wisdom accumulated through their lifetime, and the lives of those who came before. It does this through showing us the connection with land, the responsibility of custodianship over territory and the clear understanding of boundaries in relation to land as understood and agreed upon by each artist.
The artists are able to recall landmarks with incredible accuracy and clarity, and for the audience there is a momentary glimpse into an Indigenous perspective of the land. Suddenly, land that may be seen by an outsider as rather obsolete and without familiar symbols, comes alive, and the way the artists inhabit the land as a Westerner would a house, becomes the primary focus of the film. The joy of the elders being returned to country, or the recounting of past food gathering expeditions is the essence of the art itself, and we begin to see that it is the artist’s life and cultural inheritance of wisdom and knowledge that is the basis of such beautiful works. Though the works of art may appear simple in design and composition, they are in fact gateways into another philosophical tradition and world view.
This film provides a good example of the non-linear notion of time as understood by Indigenous peoples. For example, the personal life stories of the individual artists overlap with the Dreaming stories of the Ancestors and these are re-created within the art. The idea of past and future are imbued within the present, and all narratives – past and future – are woven together through the relationship to land as represented in the artwork.
Additional notes by Romaine Moreton