Tiwi artists fuse old and new

Striking examples of Tiwi art in the Kiripuranji exhibition at the Athinais Culture Center reveal how an ancient culture lives on, nurtured and reinterpreted by contemporary artists. Powerful designs rendered in the colors traditionally used in body painting, images related to the Tiwi creation myth and funeral ceremony, and a high level of abstraction are the keynotes of the ocher paintings, etchings, ceremonial spears and grave posts, bark paintings and textiles on display. The ceramics were considered too fragile to travel, Jackie Dunn, senior curator for Artbank Australia told the press Wednesday. Though part of the 40,000-year history of Aboriginal civilization, the Tiwi, who live on two islands separated from mainland Australia 100 kilometers away by the rough waters of the Dundas Strait and from each other by the Apsley Strait, have developed a distinctive language and culture. «Tiwi artists have always been commissioned to produce beautiful objects, and they continue to be revered,» said Dunn. Their contribution is now the economic mainstay of the islands and the artists sell the work via the Internet. Kiripuranji means «clever with our hands» and the artists are skilled indeed at taking the traditional material they have inherited in new directions. Some paint in acrylics and have obtained permission from tribal elders to use different colors from the age-old ochers, red and white; others use the traditional hues derived from body painting on a black background – but reinvent the design, fusing old and new; while some employ seemingly abstract images to refer to rites such as the Kulama yam ceremony, celebrating life, which lasts three days and nights. It is the first time their work has been seen in Greece, and Australian Ambassador Paul Tighe welcomed the opportunity to promote Tiwi art internationally. The exhibition, jointly organized by the Australian Embassy in Athens and the Athens Municipality’s culture organization, has already visited 26 countries in the Pacific, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Athinais, 34-36 Kastorias, Votanikos, tel 210.348.0000. To October 16.

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