String theory: focus on contemporary Australian art is a travelling exhibition from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. It showcases the work of Aboriginal artists working in a variety of mediums. No photography allowed, unfortunately, because every piece demanded the homage of my camera.
There is a dramatic grouping of sinuous spirit figures sculptured from a weaving together of string, grass, feathers, wool, and synthetic sparkles: orange, straw, pink, brownie-grey, green, red. One figure branches like a tree.
A series of panels use raffia, plaiting, embroidery, felt, wooden beads, feathers, turtle shell and sticks to create images of butterflies, fish, turtles, sulphur-crested cockatoos, kookaburras and emus, on a backing of hessian. Some of them tell stories of the area round Lightning Ridge, where my father-in-law had an opal mine, and feature familiar places like Cumborah and Narran Lake, where we once got bogged. One panel tells the story of the formation of opal, another features fish traps. They were crafted by the Boolarng Nangamai Arts and Culture Studio.
A large eye-catching mobile created from feathers (Feather string yam vine by Frances Djulibing) occupies a whole corner of the room, white against a black background. In another corner, a film made by the anthropologist Charles Mountford in the 1940s shows Aboriginal people turning string deftly into what we used to call cats cradles. A series of linocuts by Evelyn McGreen (Spirit baskets 2009) shows traditional baskets she has made herself, surrounded by the objects they are used for, such as berries and shells. Tony Albert’s photos (Optimism 2008) feature traditional two-horn baskets of the North Queensland rainforest worn around the head by his cousin. Each one contains autobiographical items like a football or newspapers: objects that belong in his everyday life in urban Brisbane.
The pleasures of the exhibition are many: it’s variety, its modern take on the traditional, its colour, and of course its sheer artistry.