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Non-fiction review: art + soul

art + soulart + soul
Hetti Perkins
Pan Macmillan

The first thing you notice about this book is that it is beautiful. The sleeve on the cover balances a contemporary Aboriginal painting across the top, with a lovely landscape shot along the bottom; standing in between is Hetti and the title.

This beauty is continued throughout the pages with ample space given to many of the artworks exhibited. The texts itself is also well laid out, spaced so as not to overcrowd the images when they share the page. All in all, it gives austere to the artworks, allowing them to speak for themselves, to flourish with words that add a history of the artists and their relationship to the art world, to Hetti, and, importantly, Hetti’s own relationship to the artworks.

The second thing about this book is that it lives up to its title of being an accompaniment to the television series. Like the series, the book is broken into three chapters: ‘home + away’, ‘dreams + nightmare’, ‘bitter + sweet’. Each artist from the series is featured first in short essays that introduce the art, Hetti’s relationship to the artist and the artwork, and a little historical background – like the way in which Papyuna arts started, or the role of proppaNOW and Boolmali in a more urban context. Some of this was mentioned in the series, others first appear in the text of the book.

The best part, though, is that at the end of each of the chapters there is a double-page statement from each of the artists talking about their motivations in making art, their desires and how they came to be an artist. It is these voices that enrich the book, giving the reader a deeper connection to the artworks and the role of art. Like when Mervyn Bishop talks about being the first Aboriginal photographer in a time in which many Aborigines weren’t even citizens. Or Gulumbu Yunupingu talking about sitting in a clearing and watching the stars, stars that are now subjects of her painting. Or Richard Bell, being as provocative as ever.

The third thing is that, like the television series, this book makes a great introduction to the work of these artists and to the history of Aboriginal art. For those already familiar with, or wanting more detail on, the featured artists, the book offers only a little more info, mainly in the form of Hetti and her relationship to the artists and the works. For those wanting a critical undertaking of the art work or the role of the art within the communities, the book also only offers a little insight.

But as a book made to bring peoples’ attention to the beauty of Aboriginal art, this book is a good and worthwhile place to start.

Scott Foyster lives in Mpartnwe/Alice Springs where he writes and collects stories to share. He is one of the editors of Wai, an independent quarterly national newspaper on social jusice and environmental issues around the country/region, and is also one half of Black Kite Press, an independent press that is currently working on it's first publication.

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