Vast unpopulated landscapes with brilliant stars punctuating the dark night sky have been the companions of aboriginal Australians for tens of thousands of years. Much more recently the vast Australian outback has drawn the hopes and dreams of modern day astronomers.
Indigenous art meets 21st century science at the Stadhuis in The Hague with the opening of Ilgarijiri: things belonging to the sky, an exhibition of paintings from the Yamaji peoples of the Mid-West and Murchison regions of Western Australia. The exhibition will be housed at Stadhuis, The Hague (Spui 70, Den Haag) between 27 February and 2 March before being exhibited in the European Parliament in Brussels between 5 March and 8 March (Altiero Spinelli Building, Ground Floor Couloit Cheval). A special exhibition for invited guests will be held in the Australian Embassy, Berlin on March 12.
The Ilgarijiri exhibition is a product of the artists’ relationship with the astronomers of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Perth, Western Australia and a visit together in 2009 to the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the remote Mid –West of Western Australia – the potential core host site for one of the world’s most ambitious science projects the planned Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.
The SKA will be the biggest radio telescope ever built, with the potential to help explain some of the great mysteries of the universe – why is the universe expanding at an accelerating pace? What is this mysterious ‘dark matter’ which makes up much of the universe? Are we alone in the cosmos?
Seven Sisters painted by Wendy Jackamarra, captures Pleiades, a shimmering star cluster of hundreds of stars, and an important and familiar constellation to many cultures. To the Yamaji, the seven brightest stars are known as the Seven Sisters and feature prominently in the art of Ilgarijiri. The seven beautiful sisters are fleeing the unwanted attention of a male hunter, one of the stars of Orion. One sister flees more slowly, represented by the dimmest star, and is at constant risk of being caught.
In the shadow of the dense interstellar clouds of the Milky Way, the Yamaji see an emu, with neck, body and head formed from the serpentine dust and gas clouds. Painted by Margaret Whitehurst, The Emu in the Sky is a reminder of the Yamaji people’s connection to the wildlife of the region. Its position in the sky throughout the year serves as a calendar and even tells the Yamaji people when to collect emu eggs – a valued food source.
After nearly 20 years of planning there will soon be a decision on which continent – Australia/New Zealand or Africa – will host the SKA. The final decision will be taken by the SKA Organisation in the near future based on technical recommendations and other factors such as risk, but ultimately on where the SKA can deliver the best science for the world.