BOOK | OUR MOB, GOD’S STORY: ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER ARTISTS SHARE THEIR FAITH | EDITED BY LOUISE SHERMAN AND CHRISTOBEL MATTINGLEY
IN one of last year’s better books, Position Doubtful, Kim Mahood wrote about how Indigenous peoples don’t just passively receive good and bad elements of introduced European culture, but instead adapt, innovate, resist and utilise.
This ability is on show in the Bible Society’s Our Mob, God’s Story. The coffee table book celebrates Australian Indigenous art with a Christian orientation, as well as marking the Bible Society’s bicentenary.
The featured artists tell biblical stories through the style and symbolism of traditional and modern indigenous art, and display a Christian faith as deep as their connection to the land, and as vital as rain.
There are paintings here in the Western Desert style, often described as one of the great art movements of the 20th century, with their dot-patterned ‘optical gyrations’ and bird’s eye view of landscape and history. There are X-ray paintings from the far north, and paintings that incorporate European art elements. These harmonise with the subject matter – the Bible seen through Indigenous eyes alert to story, country, justice and community.
It seems unfair to single out artists, but as an illustration of the breadth of the collection, we range from the easy movement of the dot paintings of Pitjantjara leaders Rupert Jack and Hector Tjupuru Burton to Daphne Davis’s black calligraphic figures in vibrant landscapes that recall Pro Hart.
Susan Nakamarra Nelson offers controlled, pared-back scenes reminiscent of both colour field painting and Rover Thomas’ sparse work, while Julie Dowling’s highly accomplished pieces combine realism, dot painting and Renaissance iconography. Fern Martins reimagines the Stations of the Cross in a bushfire-blackened forest landscape.
The art and faith here have simplicity and depth, and are examples of the enriching, two-way movement between Christianity and Indigenous culture. Proceeds from the book fund the work of translating the Bible into Indigenous languages, which in turn helps to preserve that culture.