Kaltjiti Arts > The spaces between

The space between (lessons on Covid from Aboriginal art)

At a time when we are all being urged to maintain a safe distance from one another, I began to contemplate this notion of the “space between”. Within the context of Covid-19 it can be seen as a necessary safety measure, or an obstacle to social connectedness. Space has become a contested and politically-charged concept.

But what of the spaces between the dots in Aboriginal art? I’d never given them attention before but Covid has altered the way I look at a lot of things. As I sat contemplating these beautiful, dynamic works from Kaltjiti, I noticed more and more the space between the dots and this space has taken on a new significance for me.

For thousands of years, the Aboriginal peoples of central Australia used fingers and sticks to dot their designs in the desert sands. Despite the introduction of acrylic on canvas, the majority of artists still paint in this dotted style. A connection to tradition is certainly a factor, but I wondered if there was more to it?

Visually the spaces between the dots act to open out the work, like the opening of countless windows letting fresh air pass through the painting. It breathes. I imagine the artists sitting relaxed on the ground as they rhythmically tap out their painting. I have seen many an elder sit quietly under a tree for hours, content to feel the breeze move across their skin, at ease in the serene silence of the desert. Stillness is something that comes naturally to the elders and from this vantage point comes great powers of observation.

It is between these dots of paint that I begin to sense the artists’ being. If I peer long enough, I’m sure I will see through the screen of dots to see them patiently, intently, emanating their vast and ancient knowledge.

I realise that these spaces are not an absence, but a presence. These are not gaps to separate the parts; instead, they unify the whole, not just of the painting but of the person and the culture.

I am left with the understanding that the spaces between us that Covid has imposed can become opportunities for connectedness if we move beyond the physical. Humans are incredibly resilient and innovative and this is something that Aboriginal people have repeatedly demonstrated over the millennia.

The ancient wisdom embedded in Aboriginal art never fails to teach me something new about contemporary life. That is why I love it so much and why I never tire of it. I hope it touches you in a similar way and that you, too, can find strength from it during these challenging times.

– Karen Zadra