19th or early 20th Century Title Notes: possum skin design
Place made: Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, woodwork, natural earth pigments on wood
Shields, boomerangs, spear-throwers, carrying dishes and other artefacts made by Aboriginal Australians were collected by European settlers, not as art but simply as examples of the technologies of traditional peoples, or as curiosities. The explorers and settlers found no evidence of paintings and sculptures like the art in their European tradition—Aboriginal Australians were initially considered to be a people without art.
Early European collectors originally paid little heed to the significance of the designs these objects carry, and rarely was any detailed information recorded of their origins or, particularly, of the makers. Nonetheless, artefacts displaying exceptional skill in carving and design were, and continue to be, highly prized. Such objects are supremely functional, yet the exquisitely carved forms with engraved and painted decorations render them works of fine art and design.
The distinctive shape and size of this shield is common to the Kimberley region. It is a parrying shield used to protect men in hand-to-hand combat. The faces of the Wandjina ancestors, delineated in red ochre on a white clay background, form a striking repetitive pattern along the front and back of the shield. With large round eyes and lines radiating from their heads, these faces replicate the traditional images of the Wandjina painted in ancient rock art galleries that are still in existence in the Kimberley region.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014