We are very excited about launching our new exhibition Yilpinji Love Magic and Ceremony, today.
These limited edition prints by artists from Kukatja settlement of Wirramanu (Balgo Hills) in Western Australia as well as from Yuendumu and Lajamanu, which are Warlpiri settlements in the Northern Territory, have come about as the result of a cross cultural collaboration.
The collaborators were Aboriginal artists, remote art centre staff and community organisations, a fine art printing house (Australian Art Print Network) and two highly respected non-Indigenous print-makers, Theo Tremblay and Basil Hall.
Paintings of Yilpinji relate to moral and ethical behaviour and the transgressions that sometimes occur, and like other Dreaming stories they are attached to specific tracts of land. The narratives associated with the Yilpinji paintings provide guidance about how people should interrelate with one’s fellow humans as well as providing templates for interactions with other species and the natural world.
These narratives have a range of iterations and like other Indigenous arts can be expressed trough a variety of forms.
Narratives are deemed to be owned by certain individuals or groups, and a form of orally transmitted copyright underscored by communal ownership exists in kinship communities. Only parts of the stories are available to children or outsiders. They deal with important philosophical, spiritual, moral, ethical issues and subjects that concern all human beings.
Yilpinji is poorly translated as ‘love magic.’ Some Yilpinji stories describe men behaving badly whilst others describe women behaving badly, in the sexual arena. Indigenous Australian use dance song and art to create a frisson with the audience, as in western story-telling, while facilitating teaching and learning about what constitutes proper behaviour in the sphere of sexual relationships.
Works include depictions of objects that hold powerful love magic or relay information about gifted singers of love magic. Yilpinji can also be used a form of ‘sorcery’ and some works make reference to that malpractice. Other works relate to young and innocent love or are expressions of long-term faithfulness and the virtues of nurturing and respecting.
The narrative includes reflection on worst possible case scenarios and consequences that arise from uncontrolled sexual passion.
The paintings, prints and other artistic expressions of the stories can be understood as concentrated, abbreviated versions of these much longer and often secret narratives.
All of the works in this exhibition relate in some way to the theme of love magic (Yilpinji). They also relate to many other subjects beyond Yilpinji, as part of long, complex Dreaming stories. They provide non-Indigenous people with a way of understanding a little understood part of this facet of Indigenous life.
Abridged from original essay by Dr Christine Nicholls, Senior Lecturer, Australian Studies, School of Humanities, Flinders University, 2003.