by Natasha Walter
In a delightfully uncommon show, Highpoint Center for Printmaking welcomes an international traveling exhibit of Australian Aboriginal artists to its gallery. The exhibit celebrates the phenomenon of Yilpinji, or “Love Magic Rituals.” These ceremonies, utilizing song, dance and painting are enacted by men and women to attract potential relationships. They also serve as a medium to affirm behavioral codes and a tribe’s connection to the land.
The prints were funded by the Australian government and are intended to encourage
the creation and preservation of Aboriginal art. The tribes commissioned for
work are the Warlpiri and Kukatja people of the central and western deserts
of Australia. In many cases, materials were brought to the bush (Australian
wilderness) for artists to use, and pieces are frequently signed with an “X”
due to the deep oral tradition that supercedes traditional literacy.
Each piece is augmented with a lengthy parable called “A Dreaming Narrative.”
These narratives are “owned” by certain individuals and/or groups
of indigenous Australian people and are a form of orally transmitted copyright
underscored by communal ownership. The
images function as a sort of pneumonic device for remembering a longer narrative.
Recognized symbols are used as visual indicators to convey the essential meaning
of the complex texts from which they stem.
The prints express philosophical ruminations, ethical ideas and spiritual qualities.
In Molly Tasman Napurrurla’s piece “Wild Bush Plum,” women
are symbolically represented as U-shapes, making Majardi, or love-magic hair-belts.
When a girl falls in love for the first time, she seeks the counsel of her female
relatives. Together they weave a belt, singing Yilpinji songs, imbuing the belt
with the magic she will then use to entice her beloved. Ideally, the young lovers
walk into the long grass to make love and, on their return, are recognized as
Not only is there much to think about when viewing these pieces, there is also
a spectacular array of mesmerizing colors. Intense reds and blues emphasize
the simple, but evocative shapes that encode precious spiritual sentiments.
In Helicoptor Tjungurrayi’s “This Place My Country,” for example,
fiery reds stress the importance of the small black circle in the center. This
point seems to represent the tiny but vital center each of us calls home. The
epicenter is surrounded by blue dots at the top of the print representing rain
and white dots at the bottom representing stones; in the center, red waves sweep
across the print as a symbol of life-giving weather.
Truly a treat for anyone interested in Aboriginal culture, a fruitful introduction
for anyone unfamiliar with Aboriginal art, and a lush visual and narrative experience
in its own right, Yilpinji: Love, Magic, and Ceremony offers a unique
glance into a rich cultural heritage of land and spirit, permeated by a creative
energy rife with mystery. ||
Yilpinji: Love, Magic & Ceremony runs through May 27 at
Highpoint Center for Printmaking, 2638 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-871-1326.
Gallery hours are Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday.