Saint Louis University

The landmark Utopia Body Paint Collection of Australian Aboriginal art in its only Midwest showing.
Also on display are Aboriginal works of art from St. Louis collections.

Joy Kngwarreye - Grass Seed (1990)

Joy Kngwarreye, Grass Seed, 1990. Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 36 in.
Image courtesy of Austral Gallery, St. Louis, Missouri.

Utopia Body Paint
Art from Australia's Central Desert

April 4 - July 31, 1997

public opening reception   Friday, April 4   6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
a private preview reception with The Honorable Andrew Peacock, Ambassador of Australia
to the United States of America, was held on Thursday, April 3, 1997

Creativity as Ancestral Mind: Living with the Ancestors
an afternoon symposium

     Sunday, June 7, 1997    2:00 - 5:00 p.m.
     free and open to the public
     for more information click here
Body, Country, Canvas
Meaning & Identity in Central Desert Aboriginal Women's Art
a lecture by Dr. Jennifer L. Biddle

     Thursday, July 24, 1997    7:30 p.m.
     free and open to the public
     for more information click here

General Exhibition Information
Hours: Tues - Sun, 11 am - 4 pm
Directions and parking information
Group visit information

A vigorous cultural revival is evident today throughout Aboriginal communities in Australia. Artists at Utopia -- a tract of Aboriginal freehold land in the central desert of Australia -- have produced some of the most vital, exuberant, and distinctive imagery of the contemporary Aboriginal art movement. Led initially by the women, contemporary art practice at Utopia began via the medium of batik in the late 1970s. A gradual revival of the traditional cycles of cultural renewal along with the advent of acrylic painting in other parts of the desert resulted in a flowering of works by Utopia artists in the late 1980s.
Australia map showing Utopia community  Utopia is the name given to the tribal lands of the Anmatyerre and Alyewarreye people. Situated 180 miles north of Alice Springs, in the very center of Australia, it is a desert land -- yet it has nourished its people and their traditional art for thousands of years. Australian tribal aborigines have survived because of their intimate kinship, knowledge and reverence for their land and for its creators, their ancestors who moved across the land and formed it in the dawn of time, known to them as The Dreaming.
For the aborigine every aspect of the land is filled with the meaning and significance it had at creation: the ancestors who formed the land are still present within it. Each individual is entrusted with his or her own particular Dreaming—it may be an animal, a piece of vegetation, a rocky outcrop or other natural feature—and charged with responsibility for the land and its proper management. Part of that responsibility is discharged in ritual ceremonies of song and dance. Women play a prominent role in these ceremonies, decorating and painting their bodies with images of their own Dreaming to draw the connection between ceremony and land even more tightly. Utopia artists also might make their paintings on the ground, using the natural colors of the sand and the earth.

In 1990 Rodney Gooch, a visionary arts advisor, initiated a community-wide project. The Utopia communities were invited to transfer their body marking to oval-shaped canvas supports which evoke objects familiar to the artists, such as the shield, the dancing board and the churinga (a sacred object of stone or wood on which one's Dreaming is incised or painted). This collection of 77 canvases -- the Utopia Body Paint Collection -- demonstrates the extraordinary adaptability of contemporary aboriginal artists to transfer ancient traditions of image making to new media without losing the power of the images or compromising their ritual significance. Over the past 15 years the artists of Utopia, in common with other tribal peoples of central Australia, have been introduced to a variety of new media from acrylic paint and canvas, to batik, wood block printing and carving. MOCRA is pleased to present these works in St. Louis, a city which has enthusiastically embraced the art of contemporary Australia.
MOCRA thanks the Ladue Investment Partnership, Inc., of St. Louis, MO, for making the Utopia Body Paint Collection available for exhibition. MOCRA is grateful also for the generous loans of art to this exhibition from other St. Louis collections. Acknowledgment is made to Nina Felshin, Independent Curator, New York, for tour coordination for the Collection.

Special acknowledgment is made to Mary Reid Brunstrom, Director, Austral Galllery - Australian Contemporary Art, St. Louis, MO. This exhibition was generously assisted by the Embassy of Australia, Washington, D.C.

Additional links

Learn more about the Utopia region and its artists

A tribute to the Austral Gallery

Utopia Body Paint in the media

Utopia Body Paint at MOCRA, 1997. 

Utopia Body Paint. Installation at MOCRA, 1997.