South Australian artist Darren Siwes’s photographic series Dalabon Biyi/Dalabon Dalok 2011 employs fifteenth-century Roman architect Vitruvius’s idea of perfection, of divine proportion, famously illuminated by Leonardo da Vinci in his drawing ‘Virtruvian man’ of around 1487. As Siwes suggests in his artist statement about this series, he is challenging ‘conscious and subconscious notions and viewpoints of perfection by layering them with less familiar Aboriginal cultural and Aboriginal social viewpoints and perspectives’. Marcia Langton, in her essay ‘The Dalabon and the idea of perfection’, went further to suggest that ‘the images also contrast divine proportion, or perfection, with the ideas about “racial inferiority” that shaped the present day order of things for Aboriginal people and burdened them with social and economic inequity’.
In his series, Siwes highlights the natural beauty of his subjects in their landscape, on Country, completely at ease. The idealised Vitruvian frame contrasts with the open, natural landscape and, at the same time, forms a doorway to Country, and to culture. In this particular image, darkness covers the foreground, where the frame sits, but the land behind is filled with light; however, the central figure, arms outstretched, bars our entry, leading us to interrogate what is there. Indeed, all three men, unwavering in their gaze, are like sentinels. Although seemingly bare, the image is steeped in an ongoing rich and ancient cultural knowledge.
This work is striking in its composition and reinforces the ongoing connection Siwes and his Dalabon kin have with their culture and Country. It invites the viewer to rethink their preconceptions about Aboriginal people and about what is beautiful or, in this case, what is perfection.
Tina Baum Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
in artonview, issue 72, Summer 2012/13