Photo Rougette Gallery
The bright, vivid, energetic paintings of Natasha Lennon emerge, incredibly, from a rugged, isolated, arid town in South Australia—a place so hot that the European settlers in the area commonly lived in old mines in the ground and later carved homes in underground rock. The name of the mining town Coober Pedy, the area Natasha is from, comes from the local aboriginal words “kupa piti” which means “white man’s hole”. The Anangu (“people”) comprise 3 related language groups, including the Pitjanjatjura, Natasha’s language group, and today number about 4,000 people.
Despite horrific consequences for the Anangu with the arrival of Europeans in their lands, they have managed to keep their culture intact. This is probably due to the inhumane weather conditions which have kept Coober Pedy’s population small (3,500). In the 1980's the population reached 3,000 which meant a highway and formal town government. Imagine living in a frontier town only 30 years ago! (Alice Springs is 10 ½ hours north by vehicle, Adelaide is 12 hours to the South.) The Anangu live scattered across the outback.
Art, to Natasha’s people, is life. Art is not an individual thing; it is an expression of spirituality -- “Dreaming”-- that is the source of life. Art is used to describe territory, cultural history, social life, customs, and laws. The art used in ceremonies is a manifestation of ritual itself. The Australian aboriginal people represent the oldest continuous art producing culture on earth—conservative estimates place the time span at 40,000 years. The spiritual meaning of their art is so important that it is closely guarded. The right to use certain symbols, colors, and designs and the way the art is expressed on bodies, on rocks, in sand, and on canvas is inherited through clans, families, and gender lines. There are cultural laws about what can be revealed to white people and to other aboriginal groups, what can be revealed outside the clan, outside a family, and to members within a family. Prior to the influence of religious missionaries, breaking these rules would invoke harsh penalties such as death.
Natasha wrote the following on the back of one of her paintings ): "The Tjakurpa Way: All things in life was created by tjakurpa or law by spiritual ancestor beings. Life with in all the creations of life animals, flora, the land. They all must be treated with the highest of respect. Some of the is held in the realm of heavenly knowledge restricted to all peoples."
photo Rougette Gallery
Dot paintings on canvas, Natasha’s particular style of expression, are a contemporary version of this ancient tradition – about 25/30 years old and increasingly popular as Western people have become accustomed to modern abstract art. The designated person who creates or participates in the creation of art may be more or less artistically inclined and may become well known for their art; however, it is the collective that decides what may be sold. In a traditional setting, if the group decides to sell the art, the proceeds benefit the group.
Natasha Lennon is a particularly talented artist whose dot paintings are also a type of map of the landscape from the point of view of a higher spirit relating a story. Her canvases are unusual in that she provides a (limited) legend on the back side describing the story. Like Natasha’s amazing paintings, there is another surprise from Coober Pedy: the fields in and north of town supply 90% of the opals to the rest of the world. (For pictures of Coober Pedy, click here for a link to beautiful images by an Australian photographer.)