Various artists: Void. Canberra Museum + Gallery, corner London Circuit and City Square. Until May 2.
Void is a touring exhibition curated by Emily McDaniel from the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri nation in central New South Wales. It brings together the work of 14 Aboriginal artists - Pepai Jangala Carroll, Jonathan Jones, Mabel Juli, John Mawurndjul, Hayley Millar-Baker, Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Rusty Peters, Doreen Reid Nakamarra, Andy Snelgar, Thancoupie, Freddie Timms, James Tylor, Jennifer Wurrkidj and Josephine Wurrkidj.
The title Void is somewhat ambiguous and has connotations of emptiness or of something being cancelled or negated. However, the curator sees it as a vacated space, a new terra nullius, now occupied by meanings brought by each artist with his or her own personal, historical and ancestral significance.
It is an occupied void - where meaning is given to what, for some, was once an empty space.
In the preface to the catalogue, the Aboriginal writer and sage Bruce Pascoe writes, "These artworks are important because the earth is important. She is our mother ... These images and objects are not to be glanced at ... they are to be looked at, considered, absorbed ... Care for the mother is up to us and these artists care. Consider their visions carefully because they can be trusted, for they are talking about their mother, their home."
It is a timely reminder that the earth we live on can be thought of as a living organism and when we trample it, destroy it, pollute it and denude it, in an act of self-preservation it can strike back and perhaps punish the irritating species by sending drought, fire and pestilence.
Most of the artists in this exhibition - despite very different media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, video and photography - create little contemplative oases or pools of reflection.
Jonathan Jones's video, dhawin-dyuray (axe-having), 2015 is a video installation accompanied by a mournful soundtrack of wind, birdsong and music where we occupy an immersive space between the two screens witnessing what may be a barren, silhouetted landscape or the scarred edge of a Wiradjuri stone axe.
We are invited to contemplate the liminal space between different realities.
The late Thaynakwith artist, Thancoupie Gloria Fletcher, created simple yet mysterious ceramic pots that are heavy and bulky containers of empty spaces with the surfaces incised graphically with ancestral narratives. Her "story pots" contain an internal wealth of meaning that can only gradually be revealed to us through time and contemplation.
The Kaurna artist James Tylor photographs the landscape upon which he superimposes black geometric shapes, almost Suprematist in their origin, that seem to hover over the landscape. He converts the known into the unknown and by covering up details enters into an act of erasure - like erasing all signs of the existence of Aboriginal presence in the landscape.
Rusty Peters's majestic Three Nyawana in Yariny Country is anchored in a moon dreaming story concerning Nyawana and his desire to marry a woman who was not permissible for him to marry and how in his frustration he created an ancestral landscape.
It is a scene that this Gija artist frequently depicts, but I have never seen him paint it on this scale or with such power.
One of the other very memorable pieces in this exhibition is by the famous Kuninjku artist John Mawurndjul with his classic abstracted ceremonial site, simply catalogued as untitled, 2008.
We are admitted into the work up to a certain level, but the sacred ceremonial information is withheld, as it should not be revealed to the uninitiated.
Void is a challenging and timely exhibition - prophetic in an eerie sort of way.