Art exhibition in SA shut down over use of Kimberley sacred Indigenous figure

Art exhibition in SA shut down over use of Kimberley sacred Indigenous figure

Art exhibition in SA shut down over use of Kimberley sacred Indigenous figure

Updated 5 September 2017, 22:30 AEST

An art exhibition in Adelaide is shut down for appropriating a figure which is sacred to Aboriginal people from the Kimberley region.

An art exhibition has been closed in Adelaide for appropriating a figure, which is sacred to Aboriginal people from the Kimberley region.

Adelaide artist Driller Jet Armstrong has had his show closed down early for appropriating a sacred aboriginal symbol.

The non-Indigenous artist said he was being "censored", but Indigenous leaders have said images in the exhibition were offensive, and not his to use.

"I take these rock art images, I appropriate them and I re-insert them into the European landscape," Mr Armstrong said.

The contentious exhibition Add-Original Art, which had been open for a month before it was closed, depicts the sacred cloud and rain spirits called Wandjina.

Wandjina are a source of cultural law for the Worrora, Wunambal and Ngarinyin Aboriginal peoples of the Kimberley, according to Worora woman and manager at Mowanjum Arts and Culture Centre Leah Umbagai.

"I feel sad because he is destroying something that doesn't belong to people from the outside," Ms Umbagai said.

She said customs regarding people from outside the community using the image were clear.

"Interpreting somebody else's dream or story, telling the story of their country, telling the story of who they are, we are taught from a very young age that you don't do that," Ms Umbagai said.

'Haven't artists always borrowed and appropriated from other artists?'

Although Armstrong apologised to those who were offended by his work, he defended his decision to depict the Wandjina in his paintings.

He said artists throughout history have used images from Indigenous art.

"You look at Picasso's African masks for instance, which are also inspired by Indigenous art," Armstrong said.

He claimed reconciliation was a driving factor in his work, and expressed a desire to redeem himself for any offence that was caused.

"I want to eyeball the traditional owners and elders. I'd like to be made a member of their family if I can possibly be. That would be a dream for me," he said.

Leah Umbagai said that if outsiders wanted to use the Wandjina symbol there was a process to be followed.

"People need to understand and go to the rightful people who belong to that and if he needed to do that he should have asked," she said.

Not the first time

Indigenous Art Code CEO Gabrielle Sullivan said the Wandjina had been appropriated before.

She said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' concerns regarding cultural appropriation were not being heard.

"When the artists who are the owners of that are saying 'no, we don't want you to do that — it's not promoting aboriginal culture, it's really offensive to us' then just don't do it," she said.

Ms Sullivan also questioned Armstrong's decision to defend his use of the sacred symbol.

"It's like they feel like they've got the right to defend what they're doing even though it has caused so much offence," she said.

Armstrong said he would consult traditional owners before using the image again.

"I won't be making new work, I shouldn't think, using that image, until I've sat down and discussed this and come to some sort of resolution with the traditional owners," he said.