Shared Sky Exhibition brings together artists from South Africa and Australia
10th February 2015

Shared Sky stems from a vision by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation to bring together South African and Australian artists in a collaborative exhibition celebrating humanity's ancient cultural wisdom.  This vision embodies the spirit of the international science and engineering collaboration that is the SKA project itself, bringing together many nations around two sites in South Africa and Australia, to study the same sky.

Shared Sky connects artists working in remote communities from either side of the Indian Ocean that have ancient cultural connections to the two sites where the SKA will be located.  Both locations were specifically chosen for their radio-quietness and relative isolation – fundamental requirements for a successful radio telescope facility.  Prototype (precursor) telescopes are already active at each location, some of which will eventually become part of the much larger SKA telescope – the world's largest-ever radio telescope.

South Africa

In South Africa, artists who aredescendants of /Xam-speakingSan people and others of the central Karoo produce artworks at the First People at Bethesda Arts Centre in the small village of Nieu Bethesda, in the Eastern Cape. They have produced collaborative artworks in textiles that explore their own creation myths and celebrate the ancient culture of their ancestors, who survived in the harsh environment of the central Karoo desert region for millennia. These large art tapestries reflect a visual language that stretches back to a time of great antiquity. Fragments of ostrich eggs between 65 000 and 75 000 years old have been found, showing evidence of decorative engraving, a distant connection to the lost art of rock engraving so evident across the central Karoo.  Art forms like these flourished from the end of the last ice age (approximately 12 000 years ago).  The story-telling traditions of these artists' forbears would have remained largely a mystery if it were not for the comprehensive archive of the Bleek & Lloyd Collections.  It comprises verbatim interview accounts of hundreds of traditional /Xam stories translated into English. Although little evidence exists of the specific purpose of the rock engravings and paintings that are still in situ in the Karoo, they do afford tantalising glimpses of the culturally specific ritual significance of this extinct petroglyphic practice.

Australia

For Yamaji people – indeed many Aboriginal communities right across southern Australia – the appearance of the dark shape of an emu stretched out along the length of the Milky Way has heralded the season for collecting emu eggs for thousands of years.  In Western Australia, the Yamaji and other Aboriginal artists who have created artworks for Shared Sky are descendants of, or connected to, Wajarri people that, until the mid-19th century, were still living a largely traditional way of life, hunting and gathering on the land that is now the site of the Australian SKA. The Yamaji Art Centre in Geraldton, Western Australia, is a community arts organisation and strong advocate for social justice and the promotion of respect and awareness of Yamaji culture.  It is through the auspices of the Yamaji Art Centre that the artists have connected to Shared Sky and visited the Australian SKA site, spending time talking to the scientists and, under the stars, sharing their stories about the night sky. Though most have not lived on this specific land, they create artwork throughout the Midwest region to promote their culture and continue the process of teaching their own communities the stories of their ancestors, reviving dying languages and nurturing Aboriginal culture to maintain connections to their traditional country.

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