How Art Made the World episode 4 First Stories
in Stone
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D. Attenborough
Power of Images and Sound

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David Attenborough: The Power of Images and Sound
David Attenborough: The Power of Images and Sound

In the 1960's a young British television presenter named David Attenborough arrived in Australia with his TV crew. He revealed to a world-wide audience the secret that gave the Aboriginal painted stories - told in a single image - their power to last for thousands of years.

"I have very vivid memories, of squeezing through cracks … looking up… and suddenly being aware that there were huge Barramundi fish on the ceiling. … It was unforgettable."

Attenborough became fascinated by the stories told through these single images, and spent time with Aboriginal artists to gain insight into the origins of their art. One day he asked about a strangely shaped object in a painting.

"And then on one painting there was this long long rectangular shape and I said what's that. Mugarnee [the artist] leaned forward, and said 'Secret'."

The next day, Attenborough was invited to attend a secret storytelling ceremony that centered around a single image painting, with accompanying music made by singing, click sticks, and didgeridoo. It was the didgeridoo that had been the long rectangular object that Attenborough had seen in the painting.

"…you have to recognize that they [the paintings] are only a part. They don't exist by themselves. … So the music is an integral element from all kinds of points of view and to abstract that from a piece of painting is to impoverish the painting."
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