'The reason why I make art is simply because I want to tell the ancient stories of my culture.' ALICK TIPOTI, Maluilgal nation, Kala Lagaw Ya people
'I think knowing and having a deep understanding of my identity, connecting myself as a human being to the stars, to the wind, and to my totem inspires me. It guides me on many levels when I'm doing my art practice.'
Tipoti’s practice often blends visual works, such as mask making and costume design, with song and dance. This integration brings his work to life.
'I think it's very important that the songs and the dance compliment or intertwine with the visual art … A song will take you to another world, a dance or performance will take you to another world.
'The songs [are] in language and the language is the core of the culture. The visual art is just a branch of the culture.'
Cultural songs and dance were passed down to Tipoti from his grandfather – a master choreographer and composer. This cultural heritage forms the building blocks for the creation of new works. Like his grandfather, Tipoti teaches his children the songs and dances he creates.
'I believe it's important that we continue to compose and choreograph rather than just sing the old songs and dance the old dance. I am blessed to speak my language fluently, and that gives me the ability to compose and choreograph … I invest in my children to continue that part of my culture.'
In all facets of Tipoti’s practice, maintaining cultural protocol is essential. The artist experiments with modern materials to emulate traditional materials but remains faithful to cultural convention. This is evident in Adhaz Parw Ngoedhe Buk, 2008 where the artist has substituted turtle shell for steel.
'It is against cultural protocol for us to catch turtles specifically to make a living out of it … to commercialise and sell it as art.
'… the direction I was moving towards was to somehow achieve the same tonal effects on the turtle shell. When we got to the stage of the rusted steel, I decided that we should not experiment further because it sort of gave the artwork a powerful effect.'
'… the core of our culture, or any culture is the language. Maybe one day the language will fade, however, the practical side of art will continue. That fire will continue to burn. That’s why I tie the visual art with the performing arts, to keep that cultural fire burning… The songs preserve the language and the language tells the story of the art.'
By bringing together new methods and materials with traditional visual art and performance, Tipoti is demonstrating that his culture is a living culture.
The National Gallery holds several of Tipoti’s works in its collection. Search the collection to find out more.