By Deepa Fernandes
While much is said, written and debated about the current situation of Aboriginal affairs, nothing makes as much of a statement as the opening of the Mangkaja print exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop in Melbourne on March 27.
The Aboriginal artists had travelled from Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia to Fitzroy in Melbourne for the opening of their exhibition of lino prints and etchings.
The evening was a unique experience in many ways. Many of the artists had not been to a public exhibition of their work in a city gallery before. Most of the exhibition goers had never before experienced artists singing a corroboree to explain the influences on their art.
The Mangkaja print exhibition was a combined initiative of Mangkaja Arts, the Australian Print Workshop and the Teenage Roadshow. Last July, Melbourne print maker Martin King travelled as part of the Teenage Roadshow to Fitzroy Crossing, where he introduced lino printing and etching to the artists there.
What emerged was an exciting array of personal histories. One artist, Daisy Andrews, took to this new form, not because it was about producing different types of art, but rather because it was an opportunity to have a different way of reaffirming her relationship to her country.
Each artist has a very distinct style which is very different from their painted works. Mangkaja Arts has described the prints as "very much alive with humour and stories".
It was an experience for the artists to see their work being appreciated and applauded by people other than their own. Artist Eddie Green told Green Left Weekly that the exhibition was a great lift not only for him but also for his people. To see his artwork in the spotlight was a great feeling: "It make me feel good and it lift me up to make a name for myself and for my people".
While the artists sang their corroboree, they affirmed the vital significance of the land to them. One could sense that, although they were very far from their home in the Kimberleys, the artists were consumed by their land and their responsibilities to it. It was a political statement more emphatic than any speech on Mabo.