To be glowing with or emitting light is to be lucent. Yet, despite the title of the exhibition, the artworks of Lucent: Aboriginal and Pacific Works from the Collection are not consistently luminous in this literal sense. Although there are aspects of material lustre, this exhibition, which is currently on display at the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, instead takes a more symbolic and spiritual approach in conveying the brightness of its artworks.
The curatorial choice of works, along with the use of informative didactics, is crucial for the emanation of light throughout the exhibition. Due to the lack of a physical glow, the radiance of Lucent comes predominantly from the light that is shed upon cultural connections, as well as the spiritual connotations of light that are expressed in many of the artworks.
Through the joint display of works from both the Aboriginal and Pacific collections of the Gallery, Lucent illuminates the similarities and differences between these cultures. On display are installations and pieces created by a range of artists deriving from, and creating art in, places such as Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Fiji.
Headband (1999) is a cranial decoration created by Galpu artist, Henry Dhalnganda Gurruwiwi. The band, with bark fibre string as its base structure, is adorned with cascading cords of cotton thread, human hair, natural pigments and feathers. The white feathers used by Gurruwiwi create a lightness that contrasts well with the dark browns and oranges that make up the majority of the other materials. This illuminating use of white feathers can also be seen in one of the untitled pieces of the Lovely hula hands series created by Sofia Tekela-Smith, creating a visual connection between the works. The breastplate-inspired item of jewellery has been created using waxed thread, decorated simply with the addition of a laser etched mother of pearl and white feather flowers.
Lucent not only highlights cultural connections, but also illuminates the spiritual glow of its featured artworks. The use of didactics is essential in this illumination, providing cultural information that would likely, for many audiences, be otherwise unknown.
The vibrant earthy tones of the Banumbirr poles, along with the varied addition of feathers, thread and string, create a striking vision upon entering the exhibition space. This initial impact is further heightened by the stark contrast of the grandiose Tongan ngatu tā’uli, a black bark cloth – measuring 22 metres in length – that sits adjacent to the poles.
Banumbirr, or the morning star, is celebrated in Arnhem Land through annual ceremonies and the creation of art. It is during these ceremonies that Banumbirr poles – similar to those of Lucent – are created, believed to help light the way for the ancestor spirits. Although the 76 rods displayed in Lucent have been created for exhibition rather than for ceremonial use, they still resemble the traditional Banumbirr poles, and hold the same sacred spiritual meaning to the Galiwin’ku artists that created them.