The Art of Healing: Australian Indigenous Bush Medicine

Posted on 12/06/19 by

The Art of Healing: Australian Indigenous Bush Medicine celebrates 65,000 years of indigenous Australian healing practices through contemporary art.

The exhibition looks at the past, present and future of traditional indigenous healing practice through the perspective of contemporary art from the many distinct and varied indigenous communities throughout Australia. It is based on the premise of Tjukurrpa (dreaming), the period when ancestral beings created the world as we know it.

All the works in the exhibition are linked by the strong connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Australia, and the practice of passing down cultural knowledge to the next generation. The works use a range of techniques and media, including painting in ochre and acrylic, printmaking, weaving and ceramics.

One of the 19 artists featured in the exhibition, Judith Pungkarta Inkamala is a senior member of the Hermannsburg Potters and a respected cultural leader in her community. She says: ‘Bush medicine has always been with Aboriginal people. It was before, and we will always be making bush medicine. There are all kinds of bush medicine and they grow all over. You’ll find they’re different in each place, and we have these ones that I’ve painted.’

On her terracotta Bush medicine pot Inkamala illustrates the process of preparing bush medicine. The pot is crowned with a depiction sculpted in clay of a knunkara (medicine woman) using a grinding stone to prepare bush medicine.

Another artist, Marilyne Nicholls’ method of coil weaving has been used in south-eastern Australia for thousands of years, to make baskets, belts, mats, eel traps and other items. Nicholls’ Healing basket is woven from Sedge fibre and includes two medicinal plants: Coastal Rosemary and gum leaves, both of which are used in smoking ceremonies to cleanse and heal.

The exhibition is co-hosted by The Menzies Australia Institute at King’s College London. The Institute seeks to deepen understanding of Australia through research, teaching and engagement. In 2019 the Menzies Australia Institute will be launching King’s Indigenous a project to develop indigenous led research, teaching and impact at King’s College London.

As part of King’s Indigenous, the Menzies Australia Institute in partnership with the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, University of Melbourne delivers the Poche Fellows Indigenous Leadership Program, designed for Indigenous early career leaders.

Indigenous Knowledge comprises a vast and diverse range of concepts, practices, technologies, laws, epistemologies, languages, pedagogies, and protocols for social and intellectual engagement, including cross-cultural engagement. In Australia the term encompasses knowledge produced, stored, disseminated and developed by Indigenous communities over at least 65,000 years. This unmatched record of sustainability is evinced also in the resilience of First Peoples, who have survived unprecedented direct and indirect attack on their persons and cultures over nearly two and a half centuries of colonisation.

The Poche Centre is led by Professor Shaun Ewen “The Art of Healing is a wonderful example of Indigenous Knowledge in the health sciences. This exhibition purposefully coincides with the presence of 12 early career Poche Fellows, who are in London as part of the Poche Leadership program”, Professor Shaun Ewen, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous) at the University of Melbourne.

The Art of Healing is a partnership between Menzies Australia Institute at King's College London, the Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and the Medical History Museum, University of Melbourne. It is supported by King’s College London’s Culture team.

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