Letter from the Director: Autumn 2006

Posted on September 01, 2006 by Kristin Swan

Hood Quarterly, autumn 2006
Brian Kennedy, Director

One of the aspects of the Hood Museum of Art that most appeals to me is its embrace of a global perspective. It is a delight to know that Dartmouth College, in the small rural New England town of Hanover, New Hampshire, attracts international students and scholars and focuses academic effort on seeking to research, teach, and learn about the realities of our world. Dartmouth's museum, the Hood, celebrates the arts of all peoples, including those who live in big cities as well as those who live in the most remote places, as our autumn exhibitions demonstrate.

Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters offers a splendid display of works by thirty-three artists from throughout the massive Australian continent, and most of them live in remote communities with populations of a few hundred people. Although Aboriginal men and women have been making paintings for the market in acrylics on canvas, or in ochres on bark, for only a few decades, their traditional custom of ceremonial body painting and interest in making marks on rocks and on sand together constitute the oldest continuous art tradition anywhere in the world.

The diversity and variety of the paintings in Dreaming Their Way are as remarkable as the array of colors and motifs. Each painting can be thought of in turn as an aesthetic, an ethnographic, and a political object, and together they represent what is surely one of the most remarkable contemporary art movements of the past generation. The works have their origins in the Dreamings, the all-encompassing religious and spiritual beliefs of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. The anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner described the Dreamings as "everywhen," because they include the past, present, and future while marking the creation of the earth and its peoples, flora and fauna, and, vitally, the laws by which lives are lived. This essential cosmology links everything and everyone now and forever: when the great Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1916–1996) described the subjects of her paintings, she said, "Whole lot, that's whole lot . . . That's what I paint, whole lot."

In many respects, too, contemporary Australian Aboriginal painting is an art of peaceful protest. The mapping of sacred country and the claims made for ancestral lands are both a challenge and a riposte to colonization, dispossession, and racism. They offer an outstanding celebration of culture amid the poverty and tragedy of Indigenous Australia.

The Hood marks other times and distant places as well. The year 1968 in Paris was a period of protest. In an era of marches for civil rights and challenges to U.S. military participation in Vietnam, the French capital erupted in demonstrations of its own. Serge Hambourg recorded the events with the eye of both a documentary journalist and an art photographer. His photographs of the time, mostly hitherto unpublished, are the focus of a Hood exhibition and publication this fall.

This November, the Hood also commemorates the arrival at Dartmouth 150 years ago of the famed Assyrian reliefs from the Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II in the city of Nimrud, now in Iraq. Given events in that country in recent years, it is little wonder that we continue to need the inspiration and transformative possibilities offered by the world's artists. Whether in a remote indigenous community or on the streets of the world's largest cities, the sincerity of the ancient Latin phrase rings its truth for us: Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short.

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Written September 01, 2006 by Kristin Swan