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Mon Nov 19, 2018, 05:55 AM

The resonances between Indigenous art and images captured by microscopes

Rich visual parallels between Indigenous artworks and microscopic natural structures hidden in the world around us reveal unexpected and intriguing similarities that can deepen our respect for our country and its stories.

A new touring exhibition in Sydney, bringing microscopy and Indigenous art together, explores these images, which pass on knowledge and shape our understanding of the world. Their resonances derive from the similar perspectives of the imagery, and symmetries hidden in nature.

The microscopic images (known as micrographs) were captured on transmission electron microscopes, which create enlarged projections of a thin, sample slice and reveal a flat, top-down image, similar to many of the artworks. Another similarity comes from the natural forms and patterns found at the microscopic, landscape and cosmic scale.

In Indigenous cultures, stories shared and held in paintings record how the land and creatures were created, how they function together and how people relate to them.

For researchers, microscopic images reveal the tiniest structural details of the natural world. With experience and the knowledge passed down from previous generations, scientists read these stories and expand our understanding as they strive to answer the question “how and what makes the world function as it does?” (Or, as Goethe wrote in Faust, “how and what holds the world together at its innermost core”.)

Twenty one Indigenous artists from around Australia have created new works for the exhibition that demonstrate a connection between their stories and microscopic images of related parts of our country.
These artworks are paired with images of things, such as molecules or crystals, taken by scientists using microscopes.


Birnoo country (artist Gordon Barney) and white ochre



The overlapping plates of the ochre mineral are reminiscent of the rows of hills in Gordon’s country.



Witchetty grub dreaming (artist Jennifer Napaljarri Lewis) and moth sperm
Jennifer’s painting shows women collecting witchetty grubs. These can be eaten at all stages of their life cycles. Without the structures shown in the micrograph, sperm wouldn’t function and moths’ life cycle would be broken.





Skin (artist Joshua Bonson) and collagen fibrils
Joshua paints crocodile skin as a celebration of his totem, the saltwater crocodile. He also sees his paintings as a representation of landscape. Collagen is the fundamental protein found in skin and gives it its strength and toughness. This is a beautiful connection at both the physical and philosophical levels.




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