Messages in the Landscape

“Songlines have been a central feature of First Nations cultures for over 60,000 years,” explains Common Ground, an Australian First Nations-led not-for-profit dedicated to amplifying Indigenous voices. “They were used by First Nations people as a form of communication across the continent and a way of mapping Country.” Songlines are key to understanding Australian history and feature heavily within Indigenous creation myths. Embedded within each path is a wealth of knowledge: astronomy, geography, ancient stories and codes of conduct. At their core, songlines are a means of passing ecological and cultural knowledge from generation to generation. Through story, song and visual culture – including ceremonial performance and rock art – they describe how the continent’s landscape has been shaped over time.

The Songlines of the Seven Sisters is a central creation story of the Australian continent. It’s one of the most significant and extensive routes across Australia, and can be followed from Roeburn, in the west, all the way to the east coast. The paths – which span some 500,000 square kilometres – are rooted in an epic historic narrative: a tale of seven sisters who cleverly and cunningly elude a pursuer by using the power of magic. Their journey takes them from the Australian desert up into the universe, where their story is reflected in the constellation of Orion and the Pleiades. Now, in a new exhibition, Berlin’s Humboldt Forum offers a multisensory encounter with the story. The show presents dances, songs, images and objects through which Indigenous communities continue to express their relationship with the landscape.

Highlights include an immersive, six-metre-high multimedia dome, in which viewers can experience rare Walinynga (Cave Hill) rock art in 360-degrees, as well as digital animations of the Seven Sisters as expressive Tjanpi (grass) figures. There are over 300 paintings and objects on view, as well as large installations, numerous films and photographs, plus multimedia to bring the stories to life. “This grand drama of intrigue, mystery and beauty encompasses the passion and danger of creation, desire, love, flight and survival, and like all such narratives retains its relevance and universality,” says Margo Neale, Senior Indigenous Curator at the National Museum of Australia. “The lessons imparted continue to have critical contemporary relevance to movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and climate concerns.”

 Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters runs until 30 October.

Image Credits:
1. Videoprojektion in der Sonderausstellung Songlines
. NMA / Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss, Foto: Stefanie Loos
2. Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters) Keramiken, 2016 in der Sonderausstellung Songlines
. NMA / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 / Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss, Foto: Stefanie Loos
3. Besucherin vor dem Gemälde “Seven Sisters Traumpfad (Songline)”, 1994, von Josephine Mick in der Sonderausstellung Songlines
. NMA / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 / Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss, Foto: Stefanie Loos