Wood carving is an important ceremonial art in Aurukun, a town and coastal locality in western Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland. Major sets of carved icons used in public ceremonies in the 1950s and 60s have been collected and are now housed in Australia’s major museums. The renaissance of art in the community has centred on this traditional practice, and their often quirky portrayals of people and animals that inhabit the stories of the spirit world as well as the physical environment around the western Cape York community.
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A group of dogs in the QAGOMA Collection were originally produced over an extended period at the Wik and Kugu Art Centre in Aurukun to be installed at the 2010 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, where they were the stars of the event. As opposed to religious sculptures belonging to one of the five clans of Aurukun, camp dogs generally belong to everyone, allowing members of all of these groups to collaborate on this exciting, large scale project. Collectively, they are known as ‘camp dogs’ and in Aurukun, have the language name ‘ku’.
This group of ku portrays a pack of the cheeky dogs from the remote western cape community. These ku run the gamut of canine emotions and expressions — the cheeky dog, the snivelling giggler, the overexcited ‘puppy’, the snarling menace, the tall, pretty-coated beauty, the well-fed alpha, the three-legged amputee, the old dog laying in the dust, the flea-ridden ear-scratcher, even one that stands at attention like some Chihuahua-wallaby cross — they are all here. Individually they are compelling, strange creatures, but together, these ku are a commanding pack.
Visit the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) until 29 August 2021 to be entertained by this pack of quirky dogs. The exhibition ‘I, Object’ focuses on objects rather than paintings to reveal the rich history of Indigenous Australian culture from colonial times to the present day.
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Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this country.
It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.
Featured image: Garry Namponan, Wik-Alkan/Wik-Ngatharr people, Australia b.1960 / Yellow-patched camp dog 2006 / Carved milkwood with natural pigments and synthetic polymer paint / 86 x 50 x 30cm / Purchased 2007. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Garry Namponan