Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia - research museum trip

Gallery visit in South Australia’s capital, Adelaide, where we have popped in to numerous galleries and museums. The Art Gallery of South Australia displayed a few Indonesian pieces including its fantastic Hudoq dance mask collection from the Dayak people of Borneo Island (Kalimantan, Indonesia and Sarawak, Malaysia). Many of the masks depicted features of the hornbill bird, widely regarded as sacred in Indigenous Indonesia. Hudoq masks were worn in ceremonial dances during rites of passage or on festive occasions, such as rice harvest celebrations. Following the conversion to Christianity and Islam, they have continued to be created for cultural performances.


We also enjoyed the gallery’s strong and rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collection including numerous artefacts from the Tiwi Islands and Groote Eylandt, East Arnhem Land from the Northern Territory. The Tiwi people stage elaborated pukamani mortuary ceremonies, involving the erection of decorated grave poles, to mark the completion of mourning and the lifting of the associated taboos. The pole’s face and the painted designs appeared to have no precise meaning although the pole’s horns are said to refer to the traditional gesture of grief with arms held above the head. Carved faces commenced to appear on Tiwi grave poles around the 1930’s when metal axes became available, however by the late 1980’s, this style of pukamani pole had generally ceased to be made for ceremonies. Water birds play an important role in the ancestral narratives of the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands, especially the pelicans, that are said to have loudly accused Bima, the wife of the first man Purukuparli, when her fateful act of adultery brought mortality to the world. Some accounts state that a bird named Tokampini led the first pukamani ceremony, after the death of Purukuparli’s son. Nowadays, he is often identified with the pelican or other water bird.


In terms of cross-cultural influence between Australia and Indonesia, some of the bark paintings elaborated the Indonesian sailing themes, such as Mamarika’s Liva-liva (canoe) bark, which pictured Makassan sailers, who were visiting the Norther Territory shores prior to European arrival via their dug-out canoes. The Makassan boat subject had special significance for Mamarika as a Makassan vessel was said to have transformed into a small island near Groote Eylandt in ancestral times. The long contact between Indonesian and Indigenous Australians involved both spiritual and artistic reciprocity. The Makassan sailors proclaimed certain locations along the Arnhem Land coast as sites sacred to the spirits of the sea while the Yolngu people adopted the Makassan boat as a symbol of the voyage of the deceased into the afterworld.


Date: March 2014

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