Andrew Baker Art Dealer Brisbane 8 June 4 July 2001
There's a definite sense that 'something's in the air' upon entering the Andrew Baker Gallery in Brisbane where paintings by Rosella Namok, an indigenous artist from Lockhart River, North Queensland, are being exhibited. Whilst taking in the immense presence of the paintings, the word 'relationship' comes to mind. But just 'getting to know you' stuff, has no place here. It seems more to do with the 'stuff' relationships are made of, yet beyond 'knowing', and definitely not 'lovely dovey'. No, there's much more going on here. Romance is in the air. But when the words 'indigenous', 'art' and 'romance' are placed together, we automatically suspect something unreal is being conjured up here.
The word 'romance' stirs memories of 'stuff', we 'once upon a time' experienced and adored. But when it fades away, we decide realistically (if not downright cynically) that it never was there at all. But what is striking in Namok's works are the feelings and hidden responses which the profound beauty of these paintings, resurrects in me and stirs. Feelings and responses that go beyond any 'romance' I've experienced before - the stuff that leaves us speechless and possibly forlorn. Which brings me to confess to feelings of envy in what I witness before me. Through those hidden responses resurrected, I suspect a love that penetrates to the core of this relationship or knowing or 'romance', between the artist and the places to which she has so intimately and intuitively given form, evidenced in the subtly sensuous hues of the landscape of the sea and the land. Simple stories accompany the works with guidance from elders as to how or where the painting's influence comes from, portraying in so endearingly familiar a way the community life the artist participates in and shares. Other paintings bear markings, some sacred, yet respecting what they declare, of a knowing by the artist that this relationship is no shaky affair.
This relationship, so shamelessly evident in the paintings, set off envious stirrings as I remembered my own indigenous experience of place, sea, community and land. It brought back the flood of feelings that overcame me on a flight for the first time over my Torres Strait Island homelands. It was love at first sight. Not the love we see in great movies, or the love a woman feels for a man. It's the kind that's indescribable; the kind that stirs up stuff you never realised was there.
When I left that gallery space, and shut the door behind, I walked out into the city street, and immediately felt alone. Then I remembered the feelings I felt when I left my island home. It was like leaving part of myself or something precious behind. But Namok's work filled that sense of place that tends to be lacking in urban indigenous lives, through isolation, dislocation, greed and lies. Good on you Rosella and God be with you. You're goin' places in the big art world outside. You've got your community, youth, and culture, and no doubt a well-deserved sense of pride. But watch out for the 'romance', the kind on which white culture thrives. It's found in terms like 'sophisticated', or 'successful'; and 'famous', and 'reconciled'.
But don't take my words for granted. I'm a half-caste with no language or cultural ties. I've confessed that yes I'm envious, for the love you skilfully bring to life. But please forgive me as a sister, for this (possibly cynical) advice: keep your love well guarded Rosella, from those who have stars in their eyes, don't let them take your gift of love, given from your people, which is your birthright.