Marina del Rey resident Ron Gottesman, along with Boomerang Art, present Variety and Vitality, an exhibit of contemporary Australian aboriginal art, on display through Friday, February 4th, at the LA Art Exchange, 2451 Broadway, Santa Monica.

Aboriginal art represents an indigenous part of Australian culture, and the exhibit is one of many events presented during the Australian Consulate’s Australia Week, Saturday, January 15th through Sunday, January 23rd, which celebrates and showcases Australian indigenous culture, food, wine, film, arts and tourism, according to event organizers.

Gottesman, professor emeritus of English at USC, believes that no single exhibition of contemporary Australian aboriginal art can do justice to the astonishing productivity of the 5,000 or so indigenous Australian artists who have flourished over the past three decades. Some of the artists whose work he’ll display are Kathleen Petyarre, Bede Tungatalum, Ross Yulidjurri and Minnie Pwerle.

Aboriginal art comes from a 50,000-year-old spiritual culture that had sustainable lifestyles and left the continent healthy, according to Gottesman. Through the exhibit he hopes to educate people about aboriginal art so they can begin to appreciate it and learn from it.

“Australian aboriginal art raises issues about what we normally view as art and about artistic practices in the western world,” he says He believes many modern artists look at art and create work that is separated from life, whereas aboriginal art comes from the aboriginal peoples’ deepest beliefs, practices, ceremonies and rituals that honor the earth and our responsibility to it.

“People are mesmerized by the vitality of it and they begin to see the layers of significance and not just colors and lines on canvas,” he says.

Celebrated artist Paddy Carroll Tjungurrayi says, “When you look at an Australian aboriginal painting, you’re looking at a visual language developed over countless generations; its vocabulary derived from sacred objects, rock art, ritual body adornments and ceremonial ground designs.”

He adds that the art traditionally comes from ceremonial performances, along with song and dance, that reenact creation stories known as “dreamings,” and that each painting is an act of storytelling, which renews the world and reaffirms the power of traditional culture.

Kathleen Petyarre, one of Australia’s best known and most celebrated painters who will exhibit new work at the show, grew up in an arid area where an intimate knowledge of the land, its flora and fauna and sources of water was required for physical survival. Equally important to Petyarre was the knowledge of her spiritual connection to the land. Her paintings, which mostly consist of innumerable fine dots applied with the tips of satay sticks, offer practical and moral instruction on how members of the group must behave if the group is to survive.

“Aboriginal art is very connected to community, spirituality and to the land. Those are things we often lose in our urban environment,” says Kerry Smallwood, M.A., curator of aboriginal art at the Kelton Foundation, a private non profit foundation in Santa Monica that has one of the largest collections of aboriginal art in the world.

Of the “dreaming” concept used by aboriginal people that is sometimes confusing to the Western world Smallwood says, “There’s a connection to dreaming in the way we think about it, as some say when you dream you connect with a spiritual realm. For aboriginal people, it’s very specific about connection to the energy of creation that still exists within everything. Instead of an individual dream, it’s a collective dreaming.”

She adds that rules, laws and behavioral codes are in the paintings and an aboriginal would be able to read the painting and know the “dreaming” story and location.

“‘Dreamings’ were always ceremonial reenactments and were sung,” she says. “The people would paint their bodies with body paint designs, or they created ground paintings, so some paintings are reproductions of body paint designs and some are reproductions of ground paintings.”

In Smallwood’s experience, “People connect to the love in the paintings, which are very much an expression of the unity of the artist with the ‘dreaming’ and the land. A lot of modern art in our society is about despair, disconnection and lack of meaning and so this is an art form that really celebrates life and honors the earth and values community.”

“Australian Aboriginal art is important politically and spiritually as well as aesthetically for what it teaches us about the human spirit,” Gottesman says, “Aboriginal peoples and aboriginal artists have survived in spite of dispossession, destitution, and sometimes not-so-benign neglect. It is not too much to say that every work on view here is an act of resistance as well as an act of celebration.”

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Julie Kirst can be reached at