By Zoe Wentzel
Moving beyond the subject of human relation to animals, Saturday’s conversation at the Nevada Museum of Art’s Art + Environment conference, held October 9 – 11, 2014, made a natural shift into the exploration of the human relation to the land. Mandy Martin, an Australian artist and conservationist, worked with Guy Fitzhardinge to create The Paruku Project, one of the most moving examples of this relationship.
The Paruku Project was a collaboration of artists, scientists, and writers who worked alongside Walmajari people in remote Australia to revive their art center. The project’s goal was to create artwork that demonstrated the state of the Paruku community that was struggling both economically and environmentally.
On display at the NMA, The Paruku Project is a collection of art produced by the Walmajari people, an Aboriginal group in Australia. In elementary school, I learned very basic knowledge about the techniques Australian Aboriginal people used, such as dot painting, but I knew even less about the deep meaning this art and the land had to its people. A standout point made by Martin was that an artist must first ask for permission to paint the landscape, a true indication of the importance of this artwork and the environment to the Aboriginal people.
Jamie Brown and Hanson Pye created a special version of their work Parnkupirti for the NMA, and it greets visitors to the Paruku exhibition. The work illustrates a dreamtime story the Walmajarri people have known as The Two Dingos. The story tells of two dogs exploring the Sturt River and demonstrates the Walmajarri relation to their ecosystem.
“Aboriginal artists live with the land, not on the land,’ said Fitzhardinge.
Having explored the Paruku exhibition after hearing from Martin and Fitzhardinge, I walked in to view the art on display and instantly could see what he meant. The colors were that of the environment around them, the patterns mimick earthly features, and suddenly the dots that once seemed abstract to me came together and formed a story.
This intimate relationship that the Australian Aboriginal people have with their environment as illustrated through their artwork adds a layer of awareness for people who view the piece of art. As best summarized by Fitzhardinge, “We cannot separate people from the landscape, we need to see them both as one.”