Danie Mellor’s exquisitely crafted A Transcendent Vision (of life, death and resurrection) is like a Masonic tracing board, incorporating images of Australian native animals. The dominant blue base of the work is overlaid with Masonic symbols and Hebraic letters, and is further offset by the ochre red of some of Australia’s most icon fauna as well as a rainbow lorikeet from the artist’s home state of Queensland.
Masonic tracing boards are used to teach the secret knowledge of the Freemasons to novices as they are initiated through the three degrees of the fraternity. The Masonic symbols in the tracing board include tools used to design and construct the architecture of ancient cultures, western civilisation and empires. In the context of Mellor’s work, however, it could also be said that these tools that built an empire consequentially dismantled Indigenous culture and the relationship of people to their country through the transformation of land.
The work’s almost life-sized coffin shape and intricate golden frame evoke a doorway into the afterlife, a spiritual porthole, a place where spiritual life and physical death resides and a place where knowledge can be found. In the centre, where the inside of King Solomon’s Temple would typically be depicted, an Aboriginal warrior stands guarding a closed door. What lies beyond is a mystery. Watching and waiting, the warrior defiantly stares back at the viewer, preventing the passage of the uninitiated.
A Transcendent Vision (of life, death and resurrection) can be understood as an exploration of the parallels between the spirituality, rituals and ceremony of Indigenous Australian people and European society. These Masonic tracing boards were initially chalk drawings made on the table or floor in of a hired tavern room, only to be wiped away so the secret knowledge would not be revealed; much like Western Desert Papunya paintings, which were once drawn in the sand then wiped away to hide sacred ceremonial stories.
Danie Mellor is based in Canberra and has developed a strong practice of conducting cultural and historical research to inform his work. The narratives in his art often crisscross and interweave different cultures. He generously donated this work to the National Gallery under the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, and he is among 19 other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in the next National Indigenous Art Triennial, which opens in May 2012.
Assistant Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
in artonview, issue 68, summer 2011