Ways of seeing Country: Songlines and Dombrovskis

Today it was hot. REALLY HOT. Apparently at 2pm the thermometer reached 40.6 at the Epic Exhibition Centre. It was even hotter in Western Sydney so I guess we should be counting our blessings.

Our strategy for beating the heat today was to get to some places with air conditioning – mainly because we have none, but also so see some excellent exhibitions at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) and the National Library of Australia (NLA).

First stop was the NMA to see Songlines of the Seven Sisters. This is a stunning exhibition which unpacks one of the most significant creation stories. The Seven Sisters songlines travel from the west coast of the continent to the east, crossing many Nations.

There was a rich display of paintings, interactive screens and video projections. I particularly loved the dome experience, where we got to lay down, look up to the sky and see the story unfold. I also love that some of the Clans of Cave Hill share my surname, though I don’t think we are related ❤

Another beautiful exhibition on at the NMA until 18 Feb is Midawarr | Harvest: The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley. This collaborative exhibition explores the plants of north-east Arnhem Land.

We also checked out the First Australians gallery which has changed a lot since the last time I went to the NMA.

Next stop was to the NLA to see Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild. This was also a stunning exhibition of Dombrovskis nature photography, with many of the images documenting the Tasmanian wilderness.

Something I find fascinating is the different narratives that these exhibitions evoke and their cultural specificity. I remember learning from one of my Aboriginal friends that the concept of ‘wilderness’ is not applicable to First Nations Peoples. That makes complete sense to me as the places that are home are not wild and unknown. They are mapped through story and song, through dance and sand painting and now with painting and other emergent technologies.

In the case of Dombrovskis, the title follows a theme that is well documented in Eurocentric Australian art history – the idea of the landscape being wild, unknown and potentially dangerous. Think of Frederick McCubbin’s 1886 painting Lost.

Frederick McCubbin, Lost, 1886
Frederick McCubbin, Lost, 1886

The title of the NLA exhibition is a little deceptive because for Dombrovskis, the wilderness is understood and intimately explored through the lens of his camera. I just love the contrast of sublime landscape images with macro shots of lichen, stone and wood.

Only downside today is that our wallets are somewhat lighter but our bookshelves will be fuller with the beautiful catalogues from both exhibitions.

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