Kimberley sacred Wandjina symbol misused - warning blatantly ignored

Offensive 'Wandjina' sculpture
Photo: Ben Rushton (smh)

Painting featuring 'Wandjina'
by Donny Woolagoodja, West Kimberley
(Ochre on Canvas - 620x440mm)
Donny Woolagoodja from the Kimberley 'Worora' tribe, supervised the making of the large Wandjina used at the Sydney Olympic Games.
Youtube - Opening ceremony
"... She is taking the spiritual being that belongs to the three tribes ... the Worrorra, the Ngarinyin and the Wunambul ... When she rang Mowanjum Art Centre they said no to her ..." Donny Woolagoodga.

Tim Elliott Sydney Morning Herald March 20, 2010

It was meant to be the Dreamtime set in stone, a celebration of reconciliation and a "revival of Aboriginal spirituality". But wandjina watchers in the Whispering Stone, an 8.5-tonne sculpture in Katoomba, has sparked vandalism and death threats.

"This is the most beautiful thing that has been done for Aboriginal people," a Blue Mountains gallery owner, Vesna Tenodi, says. "They should be thanking me, but instead I get yelled at wherever I go."

Tenodi is the owner, together with her husband Damir, of the ModroGorje Wellness and Art Centre. Originally from Croatia, Tenodi ruffled feathers late last year when she published her book Dreamtime Set in Stone: The Truth about Australian Aborigines, an exploration of Indigenous culture that was dedicated to "the Aboriginal people and to the Aborigine in each of us". But the book offended many local Aborigines, not least for its illustrations of wandjina, a sacred creation ancestor of the Kimberley people in Western Australia.

"It's totally inappropriate for a non-indigenous person to be doing wandjinas, especially without permission," said Chris Tobin, a member of the local Darug people who works as a guide with the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

"Aboriginal law is very specific on what you can and can't do with wandjinas."

The owner of Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery in Bondi, Adrian Newstead, says local Aborigines have every right to be disgusted. "Only a few Aboriginal artists ever win the right to depict wandjina, and only then after years of initiations and ceremonies. And then this artist rocks up and says, 'Bugger all that; I'll just do whatever I like'. "

Tobin says he warned Tenodi not to go ahead, but that she ignored him. Matters escalated when she commissioned the Sydney artist Ben Osvath to sculpt the sandstone mural of wandjina. She describes the work as a "magic stone" with "special healing powers". The night before its unveiling on March 6 it was attacked with an axe.

"Some of the locals are going on with the whole 'you are stealing our culture' routine," Osvath says. "But I am an art teacher, and in art it's anything goes."

Osvath, who teaches at Matraville Sports High School , says there is now a "vigilante thing" going on in Katoomba. The sculpture's opponents have set up a website, which criticises Tenodi for holding in contempt "important spiritual beliefs".

Tenodi, who has since moved temporarily to Sydney, also claims her Katoomba house has been vandalised. "The police advice was to cut my losses and move away while we can," she says.

Asked if she had sought permission to use the image, Tenodi says she did not need to. "It was actually the other way around - the spirits asked me to do this. They asked me to revive the tradition which has turned into dead knowledge, and I agreed."

Donny Woolagoodja from the Worora tribe, West Kimberley. Donny is a leader of one of the three tribes who own the 'Wandjina' symbol.
Image: The Age

She calls the spirits "Those-Who-Know" or the "DreamTimeKeepers", "teachers from other realms" with whom she has taken an "oath of secrecy". She says she has been selected to "revive the spirituality from which the so-called Aboriginal elders have become so disconnected".

Emotions spilled over during a meeting with Aborigines last Saturday, at which Osvath was called "a dog". One man told Tenodi: "You are going to die. You'll die soon; you'll die a terrible, terrible death."

Tobin concedes that such threats may have been made "in the heat of the moment" but "we do believe there will be spiritual repercussions for Vesna for doing these things".

Misappropriation of Aboriginal culture is hardly new. In 1997 the Aboriginal artist Eddie Burrup was unmasked as being a non-indigenous painter, Elizabeth Durack; a year later, one of the brightest stars in Aboriginal art, Sakshi Anmatyerre - whose buyers included the Sultan of Brunei, the Brisbane Broncos, Paul Hogan and the Packer family - turned out to be an Indian artist named Farley French.

More recently, Mayvic, a wholesaler of household goods, was forced to withdraw "authentic" Aboriginal rock art magnets after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission raised concerns.

But Tenodi is unmoved. "And we'll keep on doing it no matter what the local community might say. Besides, the stone has become a landmark. Soon it will be better known around the world than the Three Sisters.

Creating outrage

Nick Moncrieff-Hill Southern Courier 23 February 2010

Ben Osvath (pictured) has created a large sculpture that has upset some Indigenous people because of its use of sacred Indigenous symbols.
Photo: Erin Byrne
The offending book

A non-indigenous Maroubra artist has become embroiled in controversy after creating a sculpture that prominently features sacred Aboriginal symbols.

Indigenous community members have threatened to destroy Ben Osvath's seven- tone marble sculpture before its public exhibition at the Modrogorje Gallery in Katoomba on March 6.

Gallery owner Vesna Tenodi said while she had received overwhelmingly positive feedback, a few people were upset that the sculpture featured the Wandjina image, which represents a supreme Aboriginal spirit being.

The manager of the Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre in Derby, Western Australia, Jenny Wright, said although there was no legal ownership of the image, it belonged to the indigenous people of the western Kimberley region.

"It is an extremely powerful image," Ms Wright said.

"It is how you paint the creator, the maker of everything, and while it's not covered by white copyright law its use is seen as disrespectful, as an appropriation, as one more rip-off."

Ms Wright said for a white artist to use the Wandjina it was important for them to first speak to Aboriginal elders for permission.

Mr Osvath, who also teaches art at Matraville Sports High School, said the sculpture was only meant as his own positive representation.

"It never crossed my mind that it would upset anyone," he said.

"I wanted it as a positive thing, as a gift to the entire community including our Aboriginal friends.

"We don't mean its use as stealing or appropriating. It's meant as a positive thing for all white men and black men."

Mr Osvath's sculpture will be unveiled on March 6 at the Modrogorje Gallery, 71 Lurline St, Katoomba.

Book launch by Vesna Tenodi and art exhibition by Gina Sinozich

ModroGorge, Blue Mountains – Thursday 10th December

Poster advertsing book launch

At ModroGorje Centre in Katoomba, a group of fifty guests gathered for the launch of Dreamtime Set in Stone – a book by Vesna Tinodi and exhibition of paintings by Gina Sinozich, which illustrate the book. Attending were Croatian members of CroWell and Martial Arts groups, including Ignjac Josipovic and the speaker was Jan de Zwaan.

Also there was a group of 20 local Aboriginal Community members who were outraged by Vesna Tinodi's book and claims by Vesna that she has their support.

The group were also insensed by Gina Sinozich paintings of Aboriginal spiritual figures and claimed they were akin to painting a Groucho Marx moustache and funny ears on a picture of Jesus Christ.

Katoomba sculpture inappropriate: Aboriginal elder

Shane Desiatnik 24 Mar, 2010

An Aboriginal elder from the Kimberley claims the controversial 8.5 tonne Wandjina sculpture facing Lurline Street, Katoomba at the ModroGorje Wellness and Art Centre is causing deep distress and sadness to his people.

Donny Woolagoodja
Photo: Blue Mountains Gazette

Donny Woolagoodja visited Katoomba on March 13 to express his concern over the "inappropriate use" of Wandjina images, which he said are an integral part of of the living sacred tradition of three tribes who live at *Mowanjum Community near Derby, Western Australia.

Mr Woolagoodja, chairman of Mowanjum Artists Spirit of the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation, claimed attempts to engage Vesna Tenodi in meaningful conversation were unsuccessful.

He said she directed him to read the plaque near the sculpture and to read her book called Dreamtime Set in Stone: The Truth About Australian Aborigines, as this would explain everything.

"We feel we are being disrespected by what the lady is doing," Mr Woolagoodja told the Gazette.

"She is taking the spiritual being that belongs to the three tribes at Mowanjum — the Worrorra, the Ngarinyin and the Wunambul.

"When she rang Mowanjum Art Centre they said no to her, she did not get any agreement and put all these things up without our permission.

"Culture is very important for our community, especially for our young generation. If they see something like this happen, it’s very bad.

"The people in NSW, they’ve got totem that we don't go and copy — we respect them and any other people should respect our way of life, our images."

According to Mrs Tenodi's book "those who matter" were consulted, but when it came to being more specific she refused to answer the Gazette's questions.

Part of the sculpture was vandalised the night before its official launch on March 6.

A spokesperson from Blue Mountains City Council confirmed a development application is required to be lodged for the sculpture because the property contains a building of heritage.

She said council understands a development application from the gallery owner is forthcoming, but no such application has been received to date.

Work began on the sculpture within the property in December 2009.

* Some members of the three tribes mentioned also live at Kalumburu (East Kimberley) and in outstations throughout coastal Kimberley region


These articles repeatedly

These articles repeatedly mention that they may seek permission. Once they realised this was disrespectful why didn't they make amends by apologising for their ignorance and requesting permission with an explanation of their desire to use the images?

new age bad manners

The style of thinking by the Tenodis might be justifiable in their elevated spiritual consciousness where they have supreme authority to do what they like from beings on high, however Tenodis, please would you remember as above, so below, if you are trucking in 5th dimensional consciousness you need higher level manners, like seeking permission on the ordinary everyday-life living level. You are messing with strong energies, I wouldnt mess with a Wanjina spirit representation, although I have them hanging on my walls, they are painted by people who are authorised by Law to do so, including Donny Woolagoodja. I hadnt taken you Tenodis seriously before, thinking it was cheap publicity/ sensationalism, or you were struggling with a transient episode of grandiosity or narcissism. Its just plainly a case of bad bad manners, and if others are outraged, I am sure you can justify it with your priviliged access to higher beings and knowledge. Why dont you scrap the Wandjina and use an image of your Master Ananda, we are keen to see what he/she looks like and it would be more appropriate to use images from your own tradition and leave others alone. SHame on your disrespect.

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