Eiffel Tower gives view of Australian Aborigine's painting on Quai Branly

Australian Aboriginal painting unveiled on roof of Paris museum, with several more inside

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 3:10am

Art is often seen as lofty - but perhaps none more so than a new roof installation in Paris that is only visible from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The work, a huge 700-square-metre painting of black and white horseshoe shapes, was unveiled on Thursday to bird's-eye spectators 116 metres up the iconic iron monument.

The painting, commissioned by architect Jean Nouvel, was made by Australian Aboriginal artist Lena Nyadbi on the roof of the Quai Branly museum.

For art lovers who do not wish to pay €8.50 (HK$87) to climb the tower, organisers say it is also visible on Google Earth.

Its prominence at the centre of a city regarded as the art capital of the world means it is likely to become the best-known example of the art of Australia's indigenous people, described by the late critic Robert Hughes as "the last great art movement of the 20th century".

As such, it also represents remarkable recognition for Nyadbi, an artist now in her late seventies who began her working life as a child labourer on the arid cattle stations of northwestern Australia and only began painting around the age of 60.

Nyadbi's black-and-white abstract piece is entitled Dayiwul Lirlmim (Barramundi Scales) and is 46 times bigger than the ochre and charcoal original created as a visual interpretation of a creation story from the Gija people of Western Australia.

In the story, three women try to catch a barramundi. The fish gets away from them but, as it escapes, it scatters its scales across the territory of the Gija in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, thus providing an explanation of why that region came to be one of the world's leading sources of diamonds.

The land featured in the story is now scarred by the presence of the world's largest diamond mine and Nyadbi admitted that reality had ensured mixed emotions when she first saw the rooftop installation from the Eiffel Tower on Monday.

"I was very emotional and full of pride," she said. "At the same time I had tears in my eyes. "When I looked down I felt sorry for my country - the landscape has been changed but the dream hasn't."

By tomorrow, Nyabdi will be home, and she said she would tell her friends her barramundi were getting on just fine in the world's cultural capital. "I'll tell them I saw my dayiwul at the side of the river in Paris and they were ready to jump into the water!"

Nyadbi's work is already a permanent fixture in the museum as she created a mural, Jimbirla and Gemerre (Spearheads and Scarifications), that adorns one of the external walls.

Works by seven other Aboriginal artists are featured on ceilings in the museum in line with the wishes of its architect, Jean Nouvel, who "saw something in their art that is very architectural".

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press