It is easy to recognise the dotted patterns of Aboriginal art as we know it today. The style was born out of the Aboriginal Art movement, which began in the community of Papunya, slightly north-west of Alice Springs. Here a group of Aborigines assimilated from the desert were led by a white man, Geoffrey Bardon, to begin to transfer depictions of their dreaming stories, from desert sand and then eventually to canvas.
Some of these images were sacred and culturally sensitive and when the art movement grew, the painters decided to use a layering of dots to camouflage sensitive elements from outsiders, women, children and uninitiated young men. Though the early images portrayed clear depictions of artefacts, sanding paintings and ritual objects, this style evolved and disappeared within a few years and since then, Aboriginal art has evolved and modernised, just as the people and the stories behind the works have too.
The practise of creating artwork generated community, within the Aboriginal culture, and out of it. As the style evolved, the portrayal of the stories continued making contemporary Aboriginal art no less relevant than it was in those days.
Mirree is a contemporary Aboriginal artist who paints universal wisdom from her traditional roots, Wiradjuri country, originating from Dubbo, NSW. She is passionate about her culture and her heritage, having undertaken her traditional ceremonies with a Wiradjuri Elder called Minmia. She completed a Degree in Fine Art and has devoted her life to deepening her understanding of her connection with Aboriginal culture, sharing it and more universal messages with the world.
“My passion and knowledge grew very strong as I delved deeper and deeper into the universal knowledge & healing of the land.”
She believes in portraying her work that can be received on a universal level, a style that is related to the past, and the present but also to all people of any colour or race. We asked Mirree some questions about her work and this is what she had to say.
You learnt about your Aboriginal heritage in 2004 and underwent the traditional, cultural ceremonies with a Wiradjuri Elder. How important was this to you as a person?
Yes I did, this is right. It is very important to me, important to not only my personal development but also to the continuing and respect of my culture. It’s important for your culture to take responsibility for yourself and to do your part, however small you may think it is. Every little bit counts.
If my understanding is correct, in the past, these ceremonies took place as a sort of initiation to womanhood in their family clans, is that correct? Do they have a different role in the culture today?
They still do today, I am no expert on the topic because the ceremonies are a unique, personal & private experience for the individual. If someone is interested in doing ceremony it takes a dedication to self, the land, family and community.
How have these ceremonies and your heritage inspired your artwork?
Ceremonies have helped me to focus on myself, it is a personal and unique experience.
My work is directly related to the land and the connection we all have in common with each other.
My passion comes from the feeling I have for the land and my connection to it. This affinity I have inside for nature fuels my work immensely. The experiences I have in connecting to land whenever I am out and about in nature 2-4 times a week fuels my work. Without this connection my inspiration, my love and my connection cannot come through. Land holds a lot of important significance to Aboriginal people today, the same as it was thousands of years ago. Maintaining this connecting is the real challenge in the world, it keeps the spirit strong and connected to the land. Connection to the land brings in knowledge of a lot of things.
We commend you for explaining the story behind the paintings you create. How important do you think it is for people to know the symbolism/stories behind indigenous art?
It is the most important thing for a painting to understand the inside depth of Aboriginal Art, because a lot of Art today is Contemporary & what this means is that the meaning behind Aboriginal Art has changed immensely. Contemporary Aboriginal Art to me is a way that the past, present & future can be viewed simultaneously, just like the dreamtime but captured through the eyes of the individual artist. To know more depth of the painting is important to understand not only the stories but the Artist as well. Aboriginal Art is highly spiritual and cultural, without this guidance we are left to our own devices and this is not always a good thing. Many people today still want to understand the depths and meanings behind Aboriginal Art, I believe this is a major bridge that needs to be crossed in the understanding, reconciling, healing and uniting of the culture.
We come from Logan, an area that has quite a negative reputation, partly because of the diversity of cultures here. Do you see Aboriginal art as an instrument in raising awareness, inspiring empathy/understanding?
I believe Aboriginal Art has and always will be a tool for healing, growing, uniting and understanding of the culture and differences. I was a “Cultural Art” teacher at the Yurauna Center at the Canberra Institute of Technology teaching men and women from the ages of 16-55 years for a number of years and experienced first hand how important all these issues are in the uniting of the culture not only between the different tribes but for all people outside also who want to benefit and be a part of the culture. For example I get a lot of racism from my own people because of the colour of my skin. I am usually told that I am a fake or that what I am doing is wrong, but this is simply because the government is still keeping Aboriginal people in the dark about the history of what happened, they are not bringing out the most important issues so that they can be at the forefront of the Aboriginal education system, this is a very good starting point. I believe there needs to be more education in relation to the white assimilation since the 1900’s that the government put in place all those years ago, there is a lot of gaps in Aboriginal history that need to be explained & rectified. It’s a disgrace on the current state of the government, they made the authority in the beginning so they should be putting the effort into bringing to life a new policy that resolves this.
Can you tell us about your style? What makes it meaningful/unique?
My first style began 18-20 years using gel ink pens that looks very similar to mandalas but they were very unique and colourful, people use to say to me that they were photocopies because they looked too perfect to be a drawing, I use to spend 6-8 hours to finish one small one. From drawing these and then progressing to coloured pencils, lead pencils and any kind of drawing materials I could get my hands on to master everything there was about drawing. I then found my love of painting, my first style in this was Abstract Expressionism. If you look at my works today you can still see the high detail similar to that of a drawing and the fluidity of an Abstract Expressionism painting. After much time painting, I then developed my own style of finding a way to use natural ingredients that came from the land of the country that my father grew up in. I was able to find a way to put this into a painting without using toxic or unnatural materials, this took a lot of time to master which I did.
Many more years past and the symbols began to immerge that brought even greater meaning to my works from using the Acrylic paints and symbolise that I use in my Animal Dreaming Paintings today.
My style came about with the idea of wanting to bring in the past with the present together but, also wanting to bring the feel of the outdoors in. I basically wanted to try to capture the feeling of my own personal experience when I am out in nature, connecting to it, because it brings me so much, I wanted to bring this to peoples’ lives also through my paintings, I wanted it to be a moving experience for them that captured the depth and spirit of the country, nature and animals that I paint. I believe nature heals us in ways that only the soul can comprehend, it is only the mind or ego that wants to criticise or ridicule. I have created my own system of symbols that brings meaning and life to my paintings. I will of course be listing this system once it has been trademarked. Because of the many copyright issues we face every day especially being an Artist, a lot is not yet published on my website, until a secure means of protection has been resolved to rectify any infringements.
Have you ever collaborated or worked with/alongside any other Aboriginal artists? If yes, what can you tell us about this process?
I have worked with a lot of other Aboriginal Artists when I use to teach a number of years ago at the Canberra Institute of Technology, I have also taught little kids on a Cultural camp & in Primary School & Women’s Art Class, but I have never collaborated with another Artist, it is not something that interests me because my work is a very sensitive process that involves capturing the subtle movements within nature, this is my signature style and I would not want to work away from this, because it is constantly evolving all the time.
If you’d love to know more about Mirree’s work you’ll find her on the links below.
Artworks by Mirree facebook: https://www.facebook.com/artbymirree/