Another art history

Unknown, North Queensland rainforest area, Australia | Bagu (Firestick figure) c.1930s-40s | Carved softwood with natural pigments | Private collection. Proposed acquisition for the Queensland Art Gallery Collection

The 2012 Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal focuses on the acquisition of a group of rare icons of historical Aboriginal art from Queensland, made between the mid-1800s to the 1940s.

These works are representative of many of the cultural groups within Queensland and reflect the diverse artistic heritages of Aboriginal peoples from this state.

The work shown here epitomises the group and provides a strong argument about why these works should enter the Gallery’s Collection. It is a rainforest region fire-stick board, most likely from the area between Cardwell and Tully. This is consistently the wettest area in the country and keeping fire-making equipment dry was essential to everyday life. Elaborate fire-stick boards were made as part of a fire-making bundle that kept them dry and gave their owners access to fire. When making fire the board became a receptacle, into which sticks of soft-wooded plants — such as native guava or hibiscus — were rubbed to create embers that would start the fire.

In this particular area of the rainforest, the figures painted on the boards often represent Chikka-Bunnah, the spirit of fire who reveals himself in the night sky as shooting stars. Here, the fire stick board is known as Bagu and the fire-sticks as Jiman. The painting on this board, collected around the 1930s or 1940s, is virtually identical to the art produced in this area today. Recently the Gallery acquired a group of contemporary Bagu and Jiman from the Girringun artists from this region (currently on display in ‘Across Country: Five Years of Indigenous Australian Art from the Collection‘ at GOMA). Although the contemporary versions are made from terracotta and are much larger, essentially the figures remain the same, showing that for this Aboriginal group these objects are their art history: they inform their contemporary art and their daily and cultural lives as rainforest Aboriginal people today.

Betty Andy, Yalangi/Waanji people, Australia b.1942 | Daniel Beeron, Girramay people, Australia b. 1972 | Maureen Beeron, Girramay people, Australia b.1957 | Nancy Beeron, Girramay people, Australia b.1949 | Theresa Beeron, Girramay/Jirrbal people, Australia b.1951 | Nancy Cowan, Warrgamay/ Warungnu people, Australia b.1952 | Nephi Denham, Girramay people, Australia b.1984 | Allison Murray, Girramay/Jirrbal people, Australia b. 1967 | Doris Kinjun, Gulgnay people, Australia b. 1947 | Emily Murray, Girramay/Jirrbal people, Australia b. 1949 | John Murray, Girramay people, Australia b. 1979 | Sally Murray, Girramay/Jirrbal people, Australia b. 1947 | Ninney Murray, Girramay/jirrbal people, Australia b. 1941 | Bagu (Firestick figure) and Jiman (Firestick) 2009 | Terracotta clay, ochres, string and | Native Guava (Eupomatia laurina) | Purchased 2010 with funds from Xstrata Community Partnership Program Queensland through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artists

The Gallery is committed to gathering together these works, so that we can present alternative art histories from Australia. Each work in the 2012 Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal is integral to the artistic and cultural narratives of Aboriginal people from Queensland. When these works are viewed alongside the artistic heritage of European Australia, we will finally be able to arrive at a more balanced and truly representative idea of Australia’s art history, the artistic heritage of this place.

More information on the 2012 Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal may be found on our website.