Visual Arts

The End of Australia's Drought Reveals Riots of Color in Desert Awakening

This is the story of a small group of women who, in the face of adversity, found a way to overcome professional hurdles to continue their creative pursuits. The current exhibit at Booker•Lowe Gallery, Desert Awakening:
 Paintings by the Australian Aboriginal
 Women of Ampilatwatja, focuses on the small community of Ampilatwatja near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

In order to depict a particular set of motifs, ancestral figures or icons, an Aboriginal artist must first ask permission from a relevant member of the community. Recently the community experienced societal problems and all painting stopped. After a period of time, a small group of women decided that they could begin painting again, as long as they didn't paint the dreamtime stories, thus avoiding the need for permission.

The pieces on display now reflect the desert landscape in full bloom and with riots of exploding color. While Aboriginal artists have long favored the traditional earth colors of white pipe clay, charcoal black, and red and yellow ochre, these works feature bright oranges, blues and greens, celebrating the end of the drought and the return of "the wet."

In this particular region, the painting style incorporates a meticulous dot technique, or rather thousands and thousands of small dots layered in delicate patterns. Many of the works feature repetitive patterns of vegetation, without a particular focal point, and could pass for ornate, highly detailed textiles.

In two works by Kathleen Nanima Rambler, who hails from the community of Barrow Creek, she incorporates the sky to great effect. In her 48" x 36" My Father's Country she has painted the deep blue sky with an almost childlike, magical quality, sprinkled with stars and watching over four volcanoes. She has added tiny kangaroos to her landscape, a nice surprise. Her 24" x 24" piece by the same name showcases a purple, blue and orange sky over a hot orange landscape, with the same tiny kangaroos and lizards hidden among the trees. In both pieces she has used a scallop pattern to her dots, meticulously changing the colors within each curve.

Margaret Kemarre Ross's Bush Flowers and Bush Medicine Plants is a bright and happy piece, vertical in orientation, with wonky rows of different plants all in a row. I did not need to understand the mystical healing properties of bush medicines to appreciate the beauty of this piece.

Of the works that focus primarily on pattern repetition, one of the strongest was Betty Pula Morton's My Country and Bush Medicine. This piece was smaller in scale than some of the others, at only 42" x 12", and featured a garnet red background.

Rosie Ngwarraye Ross and Margaret Kemarre Ross, a mother and daughter team, have each produced a piece, Bush Flowers and Bush Medicine Plants, and collaborated on a third. The pairing of Margaret's bright, vibrant and expressive color palette pairs well with her mother's knocked back and more muted tones.

Desert Awakening:
 Paintings by the Australian Aboriginal
 Women of Ampilatwatja continues through June 13, at Booker•Lowe Gallery, 4623 Feagan, open Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-880-1541,

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney