Saturday, January 26, 2013

Art and Artifacts

By Coby Moss

Hello mates!

            It’s our third week in Australia and I must say it has been a blast! Thankfully the weather has been a bit more merciful this week than last Friday when the temperature came out to be 46.5C, which is 115.6F! Don’t worry though, we went to one of our favorite locations in Sydney to cool off - the beach! Nonetheless, all is well, and we are all enjoying this beautiful, warm and sunny weather.

            Our week started off early Monday morning. A good portion of us realized that we haven’t acknowledged our roots to our homeland in a little while. Therefore, we knew that there was only one thing to do: sit down and watch some American football. Unfortunately, due to the time difference, our beloved Sunday game was broadcasted at 8:00am that morning. We didn’t mind though, it was good starting off the day with Niners victory. After the game, we got on a bus to visit the Indigenous Australia exhibition at the Australian Museum. The museum is the oldest of its kind in Australia and is located just a couple blocks away from the Hyde Park Barracks.

            Walking into the building was an experience unto itself. The first thing you notice isn’t the marble interior, but a giant skeleton of a whale that is just a few feet above you. After waiting a few minutes to collect our tickets, we were finally able to enter into the exhibit. As you enter, you can’t help but be amazed. The room is filled with a plethora of historical information about the indigenous people of Australia. From artifacts to audio stories and videos, we were able to learn about the tools, legends, myths, and weapons that were passed down from generation to generation. I had no idea about the various kinds of boomerangs that were used and how each one had a specific purpose (hunting, ceremonies, or warfare). The exhibit then led us into another room containing the Menagerie Exhibition. The room was filled with fascinating and vibrant indigenous Australian artwork inspired by the native animals of this land. My favorite work was the three ceramic kangaroos that resembled the “say no evil, see no evil, and hear no evil” monkeys.
Different versions of the Dreaming
Photo by Kyla Covey
Das kangaroos
Photo by Kyla Covey
            After looking through the exhibit on the first floor, a staircase led us to the Indigenous Animals of Australia exhibit. This gave us a deeper insight on the fauna that spans the continent. Once reaching the top of the staircase, there is a stuffed salt-water crocodile which was at least 4 meters long, an impressive sight.  What was more impressive is the fact that these animals can reach up to 7 meters in length! The exhibit itself was broken into four different sections: marine animals, fauna found in urban areas, fauna found in the outback, and finally prehistoric Australia.

             The marine animal section presented a variety of marine animals found along the Australian coastline (particularly focusing on the Northern, Eastern, and Southern coasts). Of course, the animals that caught my attention the most were the venomous ones. This exhibit reminded me of how careful you need to be out in the water. In particular I learned 5 important things: 1) always check if there are signs on the beach that signify what lives in the water, 2) do not pick up shells on the beach or in the water, 3) if you see vibrant blue rings (like the color on your Facetime app on your Mac) in shallow waters move away ASAP, 4) be extremely cautious around coral (may turn out to be a camouflaged fish), 5) and finally don’t swim in the water around Brisbane during summer. Basically this is how to avoid contact with: cone shells, blue-ringed octopus, tiger fish, and of course, the box jelly fish.

One of the many venomous creatures of Australia...
Photo courtesy of 
            The sections presenting fauna found in urban areas and in the outback were quite surprising. There was a wide display of the amphibians, birds, bugs, marsupials, reptiles, and snakes which are found both in our back yard and just outside Sydney. My favorite animal of this section was a mannequin of the Tasmanian Tiger. Sadly, the tiger has been extinct for quite some time, but seeing an example of what one would look like up close was definitely an experience.
The Tasmanian Tiger--no it's not a cat
Photo courtesy of
            The last section of the exhibit was of prehistoric Australia. By far the most out spoken dinosaur to have existed in Australia was the Rapator. This creature is said to have lived 113 to 97 million years ago. It is believed to have been a bird-like carnivorous dinosaur that basically looks like a velociraptor but with feathers. It is speculated that they would grow to be around 3.8 meters tall, 8 meters in length, and would weigh about 1 ton.

            After our tour of the Australian Museum, we all headed over to our next stop, which was the New South Wales Art Gallery. Once we all arrived, we met with our guide for the gallery on Non-indigenous Australian art beginning with the early colonial times.  He first began by taking us outside of the building to explain about the building itself. In his talk, he spoke about how the New South Wales Art Gallery is one of the most prominent galleries in all of Australia. It was established in 1874 as a project towards collecting important paintings and pieces from this region of world. Afterwards he brought us back inside to begin the tour.

One of John Glovers' paintings of Australia
Photo courtesy of
            The first artist we learned about was John Glover. While he wasn’t “Australian,” being born in England, Glover is held as one of the most famous artists in Australian history. His paintings, which were clearly inspired by the Romantic period, contain an aesthetic beauty that is very unique. His paintings are also important as they depict the early settlement in Australia and express the emotions and feelings that these earlier explorers felt. This is most notable in his painting of indigenous people, which unfortunately demonstrates the state of mind that earlier settlers had in viewing them as ‘alien’ figures.

            Next, we learned about Eugene Von Guerard, yet another Romantic-inspired painter. Von Guerard’s focus was on the landscape of the Australian bush. His scientific observations of the land allowed him to create paintings that display the overall magnitude of the landscape that early settlers had to overcome.

            Our tour guide went on by showing us multiple Australian artists from the mid-to-late 1800s. The most distinct aspect about these artists is that they were heavily influenced by the impressionist painters in Europe. In particular, paintings during this time resembled those of French painters such as Claude Monet. For instance, the paintings of city life in Australia looked very similar to impressionist paintings of Paris and London.

            Our final bit of the tour ended with the early 1900s. During this period, there was a boom in the Australian economy. As a result, paintings of this time clearly depict the economic growth of the nation and resulting immense pride in the people. An Australian artist named Tom Roberts demonstrated this pride of industry and westernized Australia by displaying a unique strength within people who live in this continent. In particular, his painting “The Golden Fleece,” depicts one of Australia’s strongest industries of the time, herding and sheep shearing. The painting not only illustrates the struggle of the citizens of Australia but also a sense of superiority.

Tom Roberts' painting, "The Golden Fleece"
Photo courtesy of
            Our final exhibition of the day was the Yiribana Gallery. This gallery contained some of the most beautiful aboriginal art pieces I have ever seen. Unfortunately, out of respect for these peoples, I am unable to go into great detail about particular pieces. It was mentioned that one has to ask for their permission in order to talk about these particular pieces. I will go on by saying that the gallery was very moving. The techniques used for some of the paintings were spectacular. For instance, the use of vibrant colors and dimensions of the canvas were amazing. I would definitely recommend looking this up on the internet!

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