3rd September - 10th October 2020
10am - 4pm
WED - Sat
hallidays Mill Gallery, chalford,
In the beginning, the earth was a flat, desolate surface, which the ancestors broke through. The sun rose, and the land received light for the first time, and the ancestors moved across the land performing rituals and having adventures.
When their travels came to an end, they returned to a state of sleep forming features in the land and sky above. These places and landscape features are sacred in Aboriginal life.
Why are sites sacred
A sacred site may be as small as a rock or as large as a mountain range, they are places that have special significance for Aboriginal people and their traditions. Often they are features of the landscape. They may be rocks, reefs, trees, hills, waterholes or rivers.
Often sacred sites are connected with Dreaming (creation) stories and may have significance to several tribal groups, they can also be ceremonial grounds, rock art galleries or pigment deposits used for cultural practices. They are places important for survival.
Mitjili Napanangka Gibson was born at Winnparrku, near Papunya in the Gibson Desert. Growing up on the flat plains of Western Australia/Northern Territory border, Mitjili was a hunter gatherer in the outback until she was 25. Her skills made her sought after to catch animals for natural history documentaries and feature films, as well as assisting biologists, zoologists and botanists.
Mitjili's works, as with many Aboriginal artists, are abstract aerial views of the desert landscape. Mina Mina, a sacred site for aboriginal women with skin names of Napanangka and Napangardi, features in many of her works.
Mina Mina is a highly significant sacred site for Aboriginal people in one of the most remote areas of Australia, the Tanami Desert. The Tanami, once considered to be the Northern Territory's final frontier, was not fully explored by Australians of European descent until well into the twentieth century. The salt-pans of the Mina Mina site appear after the rain-filled lakes evaporate in the heat. The flooded desert now a myth like the tales of the Dreamings and Aboriginal Ancestors.
takes place at
Sacred sites are often solely for the use of male or female groups. In the past, this rule was strictly enforced and severe punishments - even death - were handed out to any member of the tribe that visited a site they were forbidden to.
Sites often became sacred because of their practical value in ensuring the survival of a tribe. Waterholes are a prime example of this, as well as areas where food or specific materials could be found.
Ceremonies, for instance, the initiation to manhood, would take place at a specific site (and in some cases still do) and these are traditions that have continued for thousands of years.
Nanyuma is a Pintupi senior law woman. She paints designs associated with women's ceremony at Marrapinti, south of the remote community Kiwirrkurra in the Gibson Desert where she was born.
Marrapinti is a place of cultural significance for the Aboriginal people. Dreamtime stories tell that female ancestors stopped at this site to collect desert raisins, a vital bush food, which would grow after the rains and fruit for a couple of months each year.
Indigenous Australians believe that the nose bone ancestor lives in the ground at this site and while camped at Marrapinti the women would fashion nose bones jewellery. These nose bones are known as Marrapinti after the location, and they are a part of one of the most important Aboriginal ceremonial rites.
The 'nose bone ceremony' marks a boys transition to manhood. The ritual begins with the painting of sacred symbols on the body, followed by piercing the septum. The nose is pierced with the bone of an animal or bird associated with a tribe's Dreaming and the ancestral creator of the sacred site. These nose bones were originally used by both men and woman, today they are usually only worn by the older generation on ceremonial occasions.
MAPS of THEIR
In-depth knowledge of sacred sites and Tingari business is still very secretive, however, there are a few public stories that do not disclose sacred knowledge, and these give outsiders a glimpse into Aboriginal spiritual life and sites.
Tingari-related designs, such as those used in body and sand paintings, are usually considered "dear" rather than "dangerous" to share with non-indigenous people.
This is party why so many artists have concentrated on Tingari stories related to sacred spaces in paintings. They typically contain a network of roundels which often signify sites, interlinked by lines that represent travel. These are a map of their lands and the journeys of their ancient ancestors.
Yinarupa Nangala is a Pintupi woman, born to the west of what is now Kiwirrkurra community in Western Australia. She is the daughter of the great Papunya Tula Artists, Anatjari Tjampitjinpa.
These works depict the Ngamurru in Kiwirrkurra, a meeting place for Aboriginal women where ceremonial business is conducted.
The various shapes in her work record important features of the landscape including rock holes, which serve as important water sources, women’s meeting places and abundant food areas. Yinarupa uses a combination of traditional and contemporary symbols providing an aerial view of the Pintupi area.
present and Future
The living culture of Indigenous Australians is deeply linked with sacred sites. Their protection ensures the well-being of the land itself, as well as the communities it supports. A slow process to return land taken under colonialism to its traditional owners has begun and there is now protection in Australian law under The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act.
This has allowed communities to restrict access to their sacred sites, the most famous example of this being the tourist ban at Uluru which came in force in 2019. There continue to be challenges, in early 2020 a mining company destroyed a 46,000-year-old rock shelter, legally, but without the consent of its traditional owners. There are still over 100 further sites currently under threat.
Please be advised that during busy periods entry to the gallery may be restricted to ensure social distancing is maintained. Masks must be worn in the gallery unless you have a health condition that prevents you from doing so.
We are happy to open the gallery for private viewings. Please contact curator Nadia Phillips to arrange a time.
Aboriginal Art UK and Frewen Arts are both proud members of The Indigenous Art Code, set up to establish ethical practices for indigenous Art in Australia.