The incongruity of Aboriginal people and indigenous animals placed in a temple setting that is clearly western speaks of an uneasy co-existence, an interaction that is evident but unsuited. The temple, a continental Freemasonic lodge (a ‘blue’ lodge), shows the emblematic strength of European culture through architectural elements that are the tools of civilisation, colonisation, settlement and deprivation. These elements are used to instigate empire-building strategies, conquer territories, establish boundaries and create culture. Ironically, they are also beautiful symbols that idealise harmony and artistic achievement, and serve a human purpose in the art of architecture and the craft of building.
The ceremony of initiation plays a role in all religious institutions, and affirms a connection to self, humanity, the world and above all to spirit and the divine. The rite and ritual of this symbolic interaction with the spiritual indicates a desire to arrive at a macrocosmic understanding of our place in the world, and even reaffirms it. Indigenous ceremony is similar—life is affirmed, seasons marked, initiations provide transition, and our place in relation to the past, present and future is revealed.
The domination of these interactions between the ancestral world and country by settler culture was inherently criminal. The deprivation and banishment of mother tongues in colonial Australia saw disconnection between people, family, culture and land, and were the means by which the fabric of spirit, communicated between generations, was rent to pieces. From rite to ritual 2009 explores a moment of contact between two cultures; it speaks of the challenges of settlement, and the differences in spirituality.
Danie Mellor 2009
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010