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The Painted Desert - PRICE 55:13.95 T H E JULY 28 2003 NEW...

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Unformatted text preview: PRICE 55:13.95 T H E JULY 28. 2003 NEW Y RKER his first novel YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY! IN PAPERBACK AT LAST (with significant changes and additions) YOU SHALL KNOW f OUR VELOCITY! 5;} BY DAVE EGGERS ‘ I "The work of a wildly talented writer.... Like Kerouac's book, Eggers's could inspire a generation as much as it documents it." —LA Weekly "Entirely honorable and ultimately persuasive... Eggers’s frisbee sentences sail, spin, hover, circle and come backto the reader like gifts of gravity and grace." —John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review "There's an echolet of James Joyce there...but we're carried into the narrative by a fluidity of line that is Eggers's own." ——Entertainment Weekly Also available A HEARTBHEAKING WORK OF STAGGEHING GENIUS Pulitzer Prize Finalist photo (0 Carla Gall! And don't miss McSWEENEY’S MAMMOTH TREASURY 0F THRILL/N6 TALES Edited by Michael Chabon THE NEW YORKER, JULY 28, 2003 THE NEW YORKER JULY 28, 2003 SeymourM Hers/9 Ian Frazier Oliver Sacks Geraldine Brooks fonatban Letbem fuditb Tburman Louis Menand jobn Labr Nancy Franklin David Denby Lawrence Raab Katba Pollitt 8 27 32 37 60 78 83 87 88 92 94 39 52 GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN THE TALK OF THE TOWN Faitb—based intelligence; blackballed Q; Bus/1 ANNALS OF NATIONAL SECURITY The Syrian Bet VWay did we pass up a source on Al Qaeda? LETTER FROM ST. PETERSBURG Invented City Tbree bundred years of a tsarfs dream. A NEUROLOGIST’S NOTEBOOK The Mind’s Eye How tbe blind imagine vision. LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA The Painted Desert Tbe fate of an flboriginal masterpiece. FICTION “View from a Headlock” T H E CR | T | CS IN FASHION Men’s sbows in Milan and Paris. BOOKS Wby do people follow dictators? Briefly Noted TH E T H EATRE ‘Henry V,” “Flesb and Blood ” Pbotograpb by RicbardAvedon. ON TELEVISION “Nib/Tuck, ” “Queer E ye for tbe Straigbt Guy. ” THE CURRENT CINEMA “Pirates of tbe Caribbean: Tbe Curse of tbe Black Pearl,” “Tbe Housekeeper. ” P O E M 5 “Mr. Fear” “A Chinese Bowl” COVER “On tbe Road, ” by R. Kenton Nelson THE BACK PAGE “Strung Out, ” by . Woody Allen DRAWINGS fllex Gregory, Micbael Maslin, Mick Stevens, Edward Koren, Leo Cullum, Miebael Crawford, Tom Cbeney, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Danny Sbanaban, David Sipress, Frank Cot/yam, Roz Cbast, Barbara Smaller, P. C. Vey, William Hamilton, Cbarles Barsotti, Victoria Roberts, William Haefi’li, Micbaeleaw www. newyorker. com LETTER. FROM AUSTRALIA THE PAINTED DESERT Haw Aémlgines tamed ancient rituals into 052's contemporary art. BY GERALDINE BROOKS itzroy Crossing, in northwestern Australia, is a group of settlements set between abrupt scarps of sandstone. The weather oscillates between the fur— nace heat of the dry season and the lash- ing rains of the wet, when saturated rocks glow red against lush grasses, and wide swags of clouds hang above the flood— plain. Even by the harsh measure of the Outback, it is a remote place—closer to Jakarta than to Sydney, which is some two thousand miles to the southeast. The town was formed around 1900, and became known as the only place for hundreds of miles where the Fitzroy River was shallow enough to be crossed on horseback The outpost now serves the region's ranchers and miners; most of the residents, however, are Aborigines who were forced off their traditional lands by white settlers during the past century. For many years, the town was impoverished and Lmlovely, notorious for the brawls that regularly erupted at the Crossing Inn-wand for the carpet of crushed beer cans that spread so far in every direction that it became known as the Fitzroy Snowfields. More recently, the town has achieved a diEerent reputa- tion; it has become home to a thriving community of contemporary artists. The MangkajaArts Resource Agency, an Aboriginal cooperative, is housed in an unprepossessing strip of metal buildings, next to a supermarket and a take—out food shop. The skywas gray on the February daywhenI anivedforavisit, but inside the cooperative two adjoining rooms were abloom with color. Vibrant paintings oc- cupiedeveryinchofwallspaceandwere stacked in piles on the floor, ready for ship- ment to forthcoming exhibitions in Syd- neyDarwin,andPerth.Alarg-ecanvas by one of the center’s best—known artists, Pi— jaju Peter Skipper, dominated a far wall. The principal color of the painting is red, in homage to the soil of the artist’s birth- place, and the canvas is stippled with dots and cross-hatchings that call to mind the patterns of wind on sand or the minute tracks of lizards. Bisecting this elaborate field is a set of darker, move prominent tracks: human ones. The painting is called “Walking Out of Country,” and it is Skip— per’s lament for the exodus of his people, the Walmajarri, from their homeland in the Great Sandy Desert, a parched ex- panse south of Fitzroy Crossing. Not far from Skipper’s large painting hung a work by his wife, Jukuna Mona Chuguna, a handsome woman whose high cheekbones are framed by a turn- ble of lustrous curls. The theme is the same—lost country—but whereas Skip- per had applied his paint in exact, eco~ nomical dabs, Chuguna had swept hers onto the canvas in wide gestures that re- call the way thick ochre body paint is applied by thumb onto the breasts of women dancers in clan ceremonies. Her work evokes, but does not mimic, the ac- tion paintings of mid-twentieth-cenmry American artists. In Walmajarri, one of the five Abo- riginal languages spoken in the Fitzroy area, a mangéry'a is a makeshift shelter of sticks and grass thrown up for protection against the rains of the wet season. The Mangkaja Agency, which was founded in the early eighties, got its name because the first art-related structure in Fitzroy was a concrete-and—tin shed by the road- side, which was paid for by a small gov“ ernment grant. It was thought that un~ employed and idle Aborigines could carve boomerangs there and sell them for a few dollars to passing tourists. In— stead, the Aborigines started painting, and became part of a creative revival that has reshaped Australian art and drawn record crowds at exhibitions abroad Atanytime ofdaytheagencyis a Fitzroy Crossing resident: sitting arqp ngnm If, ” a canvas created by more tbcm sixty Abmgina! artists. Photograph [iv Stepbm Dupont. FUR—.2 On. 3 m m4... M m. m m w N m bustling place. The atmosphere is part stu— dio, part day—care center, part old people’s home. An elderly woman named Dolly Snell sat cross-legged on the floor in front Of a three-foot—square canvas, applying thick rondelles of yellow acrylic in pat- terns that resembled spinifex, a sharp- bladed desert grass. Her giggling grand— children played tag all around her, their swift feet sometimes cutting across the canvas, perilously close to the wet paint. Snell didn’t appear to mind. In one corner, another artist, Hitler Pamba, captivated an older group of children with an account of his childhood in the desert. (Hitler is Pamba’s “station name,” the bleak jokeof a white boss for whom Pamba once worked, as a cattle drover.) Speaking in a mixture of Wangkajunga, Walmajani, and Abo— riginal “Kriol” English, Pamba told the children how he had recently visited the region where he grew up, which was dot— ted with salt pans, the dried—out remnants of ancient lakes. “No one’s lived there for sixty years, but when I got there I could still see our tracks leading across all that salt to the place where we got water,” he said. When Pamba paints, his pictures often re-create this abandoned landscape: opalescent expanses of bluish white are pierced by a green swirl that represents the vegetation surrounding the water hole. Aboriginal painting has become popu- lar with gallery owners throughout Aus- tralia, and Pamba and the other members of the Mangkaja cooperative are able to sell much of what they produce. This year, the sale of works by‘Mangkaja’s fifty painters is expected to bring in more than a quarter of a million dollars. The addi— tional income is certainly welcome, but it has not alleviated the poverty of the local Aboriginal community, which includes some twelve hundred people. For this rea— son, the artists in Fim’oy Crossing began a difliwlt discussion this past spring. Per— haps it was time, some suggested, to sell a pair of beloved canvases, “Ngurrara I” and “Ngurrara II.” These densely detailed paintings, which were the joint creation of dozens of local artists, are widely consid— ered to be masterpieces. (Ngurmra, which means “country” in Walmajarri, is pro— nounced NUR—ara.) The paintings share surface similarities with Western abstract art—they have the energy of a Pollock, the exuberant colors of a Matisse, and the fanciful geometric forms of a Miro—yet they are also intricate narrative works that relate detailed stories about the lives of the artists’ ancestors. The sale of these cele- brated paintings, experts had said, could bring in a tremendOus amount of money. The Aborigines would not find it easy ' to allow these singular records of local history to be shipped thousands of miles away. Then again, the Outback is not an ideal place to preserve fi'agile works of art. During a visit to a flimsy prefab bungalow near the Mangkaja center, I had my first \‘\\\\\\\\\\\\K \ \ g g \ I? Jodie”) age “I love to curl up wit}; a good 500k and watt/J television.” ” “ ’ ‘ glimpse of “Ngurrara II. In ashamed for you to see how we are storing it,” Karen Dayman, who works as an adviser at Mangkaja, told me. The canvas, which is twenty—six feet wide, had been rolled up inside a rough—hewn wooden crate. This makeshift container had been propped up on plastic milk crates to protect the painting during the monsoon season. Last year, it was endangered by a flood. “The waterwas almost up to the top step of the house,” Dayman said. This year’s wet sea— son had begun, and, as we talked, a hard rain drummed on the bungalow’s tin roof and fell in curtains around the veranda. borigines have the world's oldest continuing artistic tradition. Native Australians began painfing rock walls fifty thousand years ago; early Europeans would not decorate the caves of Lascaux for another thirty-five thousand years. Traditional Aboriginal art was immensely varied. In the far north, groups made elaborate “X-ray’_’ paintings of animal skeletons on bark and rock. In the north- west, they adorned cave walls with images of Womjina, spiritual beings with huge eyes and no mouths. (These powerfiil creatures, it Was believed, observed all things but passed no judgments.) When a white explorer, George Grey, first saw de- pictions Of Wanjina, in 1837, he pro— nounced them “far superior to what a sav— age race might be supposed capable of,” and speculated that they might have been painted by wandering medieval knights. Few whites ever saw the more ephem— eral art forms of desert Aborigines, such as ground paintings, which were communal works fashioned directly on the sand. They were made during secret rites that cele— brated the f‘creation ancestors”-super— natural beings who were thought to have formed every detail of the landscape, fi'om sandhill to riverbank. The entire Austra— lian continent, Aborigines believe, was shaped by the prehistoric travels of the creation ancestors; details about these epic journeys were passed down in narratives lmown as Dreamings. Each Aborigine inherited responsibility for a particular Dreaming story and the parcel of land on which it took place. In the desert, a ground painting depicting a Dreaming myth tra- ditionally employed dots of colored ochre or tufts of plant fibre, carefiilly placed by the individual who had inherited the right to tell it. Soon after a ground—painting ...
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