Last week was a rare honor for me, my seventh grade daughter allowed me to join her class at Eastern Mennonite School on a field trip. I did not get invited to any last year, so I did my best not to embarrass her too much – seems some is a requirement and then some more just for fun. More than just getting to spend time with seventh graders at an art museum, I was looking forward to this trip to the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum in Charlottesville to see the works on display. Even though the museum is almost directly across the street from our Charlottesville office, I had not visited. Right now they have featured work by Damien Shen who is able to capture emotion and spirit through both drawings in charcoal and photography. His work is amazing and you should go see it before the exhibit closes in mid-December. Outside the museum the trees are artwork as an “outdoor yarn bombing” exhibition has been installed. Yarning in Australian slang means telling a story. This exhibit highlights significant dates from 40,000 BCE to the present.
My favorite work at the museum might surprise you. It was a simple installation with an incredible message. We need JOY to live. The artist, Vernon ah Kee is a member of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji, and Gugu Yimithirr peoples. Through clever puns and plays on words and objects he fuses the history and language of colonisation with contemporary black/white political issues to expose degrees of underlying racism in Australian society. This particular work transcends all color and race and hits home for me at the core of humanity. We need JOY to live, otherwise we are just surviving. When the students were asked what the installation meant to them, it was my daughter that spoke up and said “we have to enjoy life.” I certainly hope she remembers that message each day. Life is hard and in today’s society we are hard on each other. If we could just spread JOY, wouldn’t life be better for everyone?
The Kluge-Ruge Aboriginal Art Museum of the University of Virginia houses an incredible indigenous Australian art collection. It has paintings from the Papunya movement and Arnhem land artists. The museum collection originated with John Werner Kluge and Professor Edward Ruhe (University of Kansas). It features bark paintings, acrylic on canvas, sculptures, and artifacts.