Exploring Connections to Nature through Aboriginal Art – a book review

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 “An opening twelve love stories about art.”

Authored by Stephanie Radok 2012; Published by Wakefield Press 2012 Kent Town, South Australia. ISBN 978 1 74305 041 5 (pbk.)

“Maybe some of us are made quite simply from the earth of one place, we taste strongly of one thing and belong to it. But most of us are made from many substances……. “ (Stephanie Radok pg ix)

This is a book that would appear on face value to be a book about art, however, it doesn’t take you many pages to discover that it is far more than that and that Stephanie Radok is surely  “made of many substances” ! These layers are revealed as she leads us on a journey through the seasons in the suburbs of Adelaide with herself and her dog. She thoughtfully and poetically shares her reflections on what it means to ‘belong’, what it means to be part of the natural world and what role art has to play in this relationship.  “… Art that draws our attention to the earth underlines the importance of the relationship between humans and nature. ….The correspondences between leaves and hands, trees and lungs, flowers and sex organs, affirm connection…..” (pg. 29)

As an art critic of Aboriginal Art for over 20 years Stephanie humbly speaks about emotions, experiences,  life and connections as these are what the art work has taught her about being human. She says: “What may be usefully learned .. may not be intricate facts or …indeed ..an inferiority complex  of being less spiritual or less connected  but rather … general principles and approaches to living.”  (pg4). She describes the way in which learning through art can be a participatory and experiential process as opposed to simply a passive, aesthetic interpretation: “ it is possible to respond to them (Aboriginal art) on an experiential level, joining your own experience of the earth , your knowledge about weather, land forms, plants , animals and life, to your experience of art, your acquaintance with and response to paint and patterns, texture, colour , drawing and surfaces. …the works also ask viewers to draw on what they already know about the world. “ (pg 96). This book itself does just that, I felt it drawing me in and asking me to reflect on what it means to be connected to the natural world.  It also had me thinking and searching my own experiences to find answers to her questions about being in wide open spaces  in the outback: “….liberation of the spirit, splendid forms – how are these things connected to wide open spaces? If the space is not thought of as empty, does that make it more or less spiritual..? Is such a space one in which you expand both metaphorically and actually as you feel your equivalence or kinship with cloud, rock and tree?” (pg 39)

This book is not written for just artists or even arty types, it is a book for those who ponder deep questions about life and belonging and nature.  It is a useful companion to practitioners and facilitators who provide the opportunity for people  to re-discover their place in the natural world and “to know which bit of the earth they come from” (pg 28).

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