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Barbara Leo
(Australian, Anmatyerre Tribe)
Bush Tucker
ca. 1990
acrylic on canvas, 30" x 48"
Alice Tweed Tuohy Foundation Purchase

Paintings by native (or Aboriginal) Australians were traditionally known as “dreamings,” so called because they are inspired by the “dreamtime,” a state of heightened spiritual awareness which allows individuals to commune with the spirits of ancestors and nature. Symbolic depictions of mythic beings, places and objects have developed over centuries from designs on rock and tree bark, now expressed in paintings using modern materials like acrylic paint and canvas. Before European contact, aboriginal Australian art was made for ceremonial and spiritual reasons. It was considered as a tool to connect human beings with the supernatural world and to connect the stories of the past with the present. Traditionally, such images could only be created and viewed by the tribal spiritual leaders. Today, much aboriginal art is created for a global public, and cottage industry type workshops of artists create paintings and objects specifically for sale to outsiders. A common feature of “dreamings” paintings produced by the many different Aboriginal tribes of Australia is their map-like “bird’s eye” view of the landscape. This shift in point of view may be an indicator of the spiritual, as opposed to earth-bound, vision attributed to the tribal religious leaders once responsible for the creation of such images. Originally conceived of as “spiritual maps,” their broad appeal to a contemporary global public has much to do with the fact that, when taken out of that context, these artworks are easily read and consumed as an exotic, “folk art” version of modern abstract and decorative painting. In Barbara Leo’s Bush Tucker each shape has a specific meaning. The circles stand for campfires or watering holes, the U-shaped lines are people, the ovals are food bowls, and the straight lines represent sticks used for digging up grubs. In the harsh environment of the central Australia desert, food sources are scarce, and these “witchety grubs.” or “bush tuckers” are an important traditional source of protein. The grubs identifies in this painting’s title are pictured near plants commonly known as “bush plums.” The bush plum is a food for the grubs, and locating the plant means finding the grubs as well.

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