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Exhibition of works from the Lam Collection of Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art opens in San Antonio
Unknown Artist, Australian (Tiwi, Tiwi Islands), Figural Pukamani Pole, n.d. Ironwood with natural ochre pigments, h. 25 ¾ in.; d. 5 ¾ in. Gift of the Lam Family, 2016.14.35. Photography by Peggy Tenison.


SAN ANTONIO, TX.- On February 24, 2017, the San Antonio Museum of Art opened an exhibition of contemporary Aboriginal art, titled Of Country and Culture: The Lam Collection of Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art. The exhibition is drawn from a collection gifted to the Museum earlier this year by long-time supporters May and Victor Lam.

With approximately 75 works on view, the exhibition explores the contemporary application of a range of Aboriginal artistic traditions—from sand paintings, to body painting, to grave poles—to demonstrate similar cultural ties to land, heritage and visual communication. The collection includes a significant number of works by women artists, representing a recent change from their historical exclusion from the contemporary painting movement in Australia.

“With bold colors and materials, these works are made to be beautiful, but also to speak to people about communal history and events, reminding us that art is something cultures need,” said Katie Luber, the Kelso Director of the San Antonio Museum of Art. “We are incredibly grateful for May and Victor’s generosity and for launching us into a new area of collecting, furthering our ability to connect more deeply with other cultures and art historical periods.”

The Lams’ enthusiasm for contemporary Aboriginal art began when they visited the traveling exhibition Spirit Country at the Museum in 2000. These works inspired May Lam, a founding Museum board member, and her daughter Dorothy to travel to Australia to visit Aboriginal communities across the continent. On their trip, they amassed an outstanding collection representative of contemporary indigenous art making throughout Australia. The works range from the mid-1990s through 2007.

“Collecting these works was a process of love without the labor, a deeply energizing experience that taught me so much about Aboriginal culture, both past and present,” said May Lam. “These works opened my eyes to new ways of seeing how artists create. My family and I felt it was important that our community have a similar opportunity, and I am thrilled that the San Antonio Museum of Art has taken our gift and created this new exhibition.”

Aboriginal peoples' presence in Australia dates back at least 50,000 years, making them one of the earliest civilizations. Art has always played an integral role in Aboriginal society and is intimately linked to daily life. The oldest surviving examples of Aboriginal art are cave paintings and rock engravings that are 40,000 years old, predating the cave paintings at Lascaux (present-day France) and Altamira (present-day Spain). Both subject matter and iconography from ancient precedents inform the practices of contemporary Aboriginal artists, who are thus working in the oldest continuous cultural tradition.

Since 1788, when Europeans colonized Australia, Aboriginal Australians have suffered devastating displacement, dispossession, and marginalization. A staggeringly diverse Aboriginal population of 500,000 people—whose groups spoke over 600 unique languages and dialects at the time of colonization—was quickly reduced through violent conflicts, environmental imbalances and diseases, and discrimination.
Despite this tumultuous history, contemporary Aboriginal art has flourished in recent decades. In combining designs and subjects depicted by their ancestors with present-day materials, contemporary Aboriginal artists reclaim their rights to the land and preserve their culture for future generations.






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