Secret art of Australia's first people

17th November 2000 at 00:00
THIS EARTH FOR US - stories and art from Australia's first people. By Stephen Bugg and the Commonwealth Institute Education Team. pound;12. The Commonwealth Institute, The Commonwealth Resource Centre, Kensington High Street, London W8 6NQ

This resource pack, produced to support the current Commonwealth Institute touring exhibition, is elegantly presented in an A4 plastic wallet containing a 32-page teacher's informationactivity book, with colour reproductions on card of 12 Aboriginal art objects from the exhibition. Two of these images also appear as A2 colour posters.

The objects feature a variety of media from the traditional to the contemporary, such as a decorated terracotta pot, paintings in natural earth pigments on canvas or ochre on ironwood, a bowl made of River Red Gum, a lithograph, and an acrylic on canvas.

These are the works of living artists and the emphasis is on Aboriginal art as a developing, "live" medium, not a static traditional one, despite its obvious debt to ancient roots. The cards provide brief information about the artist and the subject matter, insofar as it can be expressed. Much Aboriginal art is produced as a kind of meditation by the creator on his or her material and specifically should no be explained to cultural outsiders. One of the projects for pupils makes deliberate use of this "secret story" aspect.

While I wanted very much to learn from and enjoy this material, I found myself experiencing a growing sense of worry. This derives from the very understandable aim of the authors to avoid exploiting the artists or causing offence. Whereas most teaching packs have the images cleared for reproduction for educational purposes, here this is very strongly discouraged, and must inhibit the practicality of classroom use.

Further, the authors explain that it is not acceptable for pupils to copy Aboriginal art; this must be avoided. ("You may reproduce the resource sheets, but you must not reproduce the art works themselves, in any form.") As a result the pupil projects tread very carefully around the stimulus material and, again perhaps understandably, seem to lack a really creative connection with it.

Apart from "Telling a Secret Story", I was left feeling that teachers might already be doing work on identity and local environment very similar to the projects suggested.

Susan Morris is a museum and gallery educator Dangers of drink-driving as shown by William Lalande, Year 9 at Norton College


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