Honoring Aboriginal Art in Sydney

Day 64, Grand World Voyage 2020

Sunday, March 8, 2020; Sydney, Australia

When does the display and ownership of indigenous art cross the line into unethical appropriation?

I gained an insight into this thorny issue today while on a docent-led tour of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. We were admiring a display of Tutuni or Pukumani graveposts, the first major commission of Aboriginal work by a gallery of modern art.

“Heralding a shift in tradition, the artists made the conscious choice to produce Tutuni for an outside audience,” according to the display signage. “They employed traditional techniques of carving and painting, but made the sculptures from ironwood, rather than the traditional bloodwood, which is reserved for ceremonies.”

Creating commissions for the museum opened a door into a new avenue for indigenous art as fine art rather than spiritual purposes, the docent said. The museum gains representative artwork without appropriating items of spiritual significance. At the same time, many Aboriginal artists work within their communities to reinvest commission profits into supporting new artists.

This is why I love travel – it opens my eyes to cultures and worldviews that just don’t cross my path at home.

I ended up at the museum after parting ways with my sister Elaine. I’ve enjoyed sharing with her some of my favorite places on this cruise, like we did yesterday at Watson’s Bay and the Australia National Maritime Museum.

But when she expressed interest in going to the Taronga Zoo today with a fellow passenger, I said to go ahead without me. I’ve been there before. I haven’t been to the Royal Botanical Garden or the Art Gallery of New South Wales and thought they would be great places to spend my Sunday.

I had time to kill while walking the mile from Darling Harbor to the museum, so when it started sprinkling I dropped into the Queen Victoria Building (QVB – now an upscale mall), for a cup of flat white and a browse through a real Sunday newspaper. I’ve learned that in Australia a latte is served in a small drinking glass while a flat white comes in a cup and has a little more foam.

Moving on, I paused in Hyde Park across from St. Mary’s Cathedral, taking in the joyous pealing of bells for Sunday services.

After touring the Aboriginal art galleries and other exhibits at the museum, I exited to sun peaking through the clouds. Next it was on to the garden itself, a combination of specialty areas spread throughout great expanses of lawn and indigenous trees. The gardens stretch along both sides of a small bay, with one tip anchored by the Sydney Opera House. I started at the opposite end, entering through the Woolloomooloo Gate near the art gallery, and even in a few hours I only made it part way to the Opera House.

Being by myself I could set the pace and not feel like I was holding anyone back as I stopped to sketch a leaf, a flower or even a bistro table in the fern garden.

 I saw a number of ibises foraging in the grass, and a Noisy Miner startled me by dropping right in front, upside down. (Thanks to Joyce and Connie for quickly identifying it from my FaceBook post.)

By the time I got to the Rose Garden, where workers were setting up for a wedding, I was uncomfortably warm in the sun and decided to leave.

My stomach was crying out for pizza, and according to Yelp one of the best options was back at the QVB. It was on the way to Darling Harbor, so I indulged in a small prosciutto pie with, of course, Australia’s White Rabbit Pale Ale.

Back on the Amsterdam, quite a crowd gathered on the Sea View deck for a stunning sail away from Sydney Harbor. Servers offered Australian wines at happy hour prices and passed trays of Australian cheeses and raw oysters. The captain gave three firm blasts of the ship’s horn as we approached the Harbor Bridge, and bridge walkers at the top of the span waved and cheered as we sailed underneath.

Today is Day 64, marking the halfway point in this 128-day journey. Of course now we are uncertain over our itinerary as each day brings new developments in the covid-19 saga. We’re just exercising patience and taking it a day at a time. The ship is healthy, so it seems a good place to be now. Life is full of uncertainties, and adventure is part of the journey.