Australian Aboriginal and Papuan art at Riga Bourse

  • 2016-02-24
  • Michael Mustillo

RIGA - Running until April 17, the exhibition “Australian Aboriginal and Papuan Art” on show at the Riga Bourse Art Museum presents a unique collection of artefacts. Each artwork uncovers a fascinating glimpse into the spiritual and ritualistic life of the indigenous native peoples of Australia and New Guinea.

Such a large collection of indigenous native art has never been exhibited in Latvia before. This is partly explained by geography. The Baltic is a long, long way from the Pacific. But the artworks themselves have not had to travel far on this leg of their journey: they are already part of the permanent exhibition of the Lithuanian Art Museum in Vilnius.
They got to Lithuania thanks to Dr. Genovaite Budreikaite-Kazokiene, an eminent researcher and collector who was born in Kaunas but emigrated to Australia in 1949. She died last year, after a lifetime of contributions to Lithuanian culture — a devotion and generosity that won her the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas in 1997.

The ambitious collection took Budreikaite-Kazokiene over thirty years to build and has been far from forgotten in Lithuania. “Her donation of her valuable collection of Australian and Oceanic tribal arts has become the pride of the Lithuanian Art Museum,” Romualdas Budrys, the museum’s director, told The Baltic Times.

With part of this collection arriving in the Latvian capital for the first time, there is much for the casual art critic to behold.
Symbols refined for thousands of years and left on rocks, eucalyptus bark, and desert sand by Aborigines reveal variations of the Dreamtime so sacred to Australian aborigines — a period in which Indigenous people believe the world was created.
Handed down through the generations they recount aboriginal laws, the most important being harmony with the environment and with oneself. The collection of aboriginal art in the exhibition allows one to capture a glimpse of the aboriginal written language which art stood for, serving as an unwritten encyclopaedia of being an Aboriginal person, telling of stories so central to aboriginal culture, handing down through art important information to preserve it.

Budreikaite-Kazokiene gathered her valuable collection of Papuan wooden sculptures and masks during her extensive travels throughout New Guinea, usually travelling by boat with the members of indigenous tribes through jungle rivers, in a region that remained untouched by civilisation up until the close of the 20th century.
Most of the statues of ancestors on display were used in rituals as seats of gods and were held in houses of worship or placed on prows of boats to offer protection against evil spirits.

Papuans treated the statues and masks on display as intermediaries between the dead and the living, holding power over victories in war and success in hunting and in love.
At the start of the 20th century, great painters of European art turned to works of indigenous tribes in the search of spontaneity, sincerity, and vitality — which native art held for European artists.

The powerful direct expressiveness of statues and masks from Africa and Melanesia, conveying the anxieties, fears, and horrors in the subconscious mind of people that lived in the wilderness, significantly influenced the development of European art, becoming a source of reference for cubists, expressionists, surrealists, and other modernists in their pursuits of plasticity of form.

During the previous century the world’s most prestigious museums were to open their doors to Australian Aboriginal and New Guinean art. The 21st century is bringing irreversible changes to the existence and everyday lives of Australian and Papuan New Guinean indigenous people and their culture.
Australian Aboriginal and Papuan Art runs until April 17, 2016:

Australian Aboriginal and Papuan Art runs until April  17, 2016: Latvian National Museum of Art Museum “Riga Bourse” Doma Square 6, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia  

Opening hours:  Mo. Closed, Tu., We., Th. 10:00 - 18:00, Fr. 10.00 - 20.00, Sa., Su. 10:00 - 18:00