Ochre & Ink, Sino Aboriginal blend in Arnhem Land

Aesthetically fabulous, humanely wonderful and artistically captivating, Ochre & Ink was unanimously well-received by the audience in the Little Theatre early yesterday afternoon at the projection-meeting with James Bradley, the director of the film. What an ambiance!

Xiaoping is Chinese. He is ageless but has already collaborated with Aboriginal artists for 23 years. If James Bradley was unable to narrate all of the fascinating life of this man captivated by the art (the art of living too) of the aborigines, it is due to lack of time. They therefore decided together to focus on this moment in time, in particular the absolutely amazing work undertaken with Johnny Bulunbulun, an Aboriginal artist from Arnhem Land, to reconcile the respective inspiration of the two artists on rice paper or tree bark, each bearing ancestral traditions inextricably embedded in them.

A deep friendship is the fruit of this collaboration, which extends to family and wider still to the Aboriginal artist’s community. When Johnny Bulunbulun suddenly died aged 64 years old, without having been able to make the journey to China as planned, to discover Xiaoping’s culture first of all and also assist with the opening of their exhibition at the museum in the capital Beijing (a real success with 330,000 visitors), his widow and son took the plane to represent him outside their own country.

If the Chinese artist received abundant criticism at the beginning of his Chinese Aboriginal creation, beginning with being racist because he painted Aborigines, his tenacity, perseverance and especially his talent earned him international recognition today, from the farthest reaches of Arnhem to Beijing, via Melbourne, where he still lives.

His inspired work, of great sensitivity and extraordinary finesse unquestionably gave the Polynesian public the desire to host the exhibition. For the time being, negotiations are ongoing to transport it from Melbourne, where it was shown from July to October last year. Whilst waiting for it to finally come to Tahiti, the artist wants to come back to do some work in Polynesia. ‘I like not only the landscape but also the people from here,’ he assured.


Manon Hericher


Head to head, with James Bradley


How did you and Xiaoping meet?

I met Xiaoping through an old school friend that I had not seen for 35 years. We met up at an old school reunion. I was doing film editing, I had worked on films about Aboriginal communities and he had become professor of Asian studies at the University of Melbourne. When I told him that I made films, he said, ‘I have an extraordinary story for you: I know this Chinese artist who spends whole weeks in Arnhem Land painting with Aboriginal artists.’ From there, I called Xiaoping, we decided to meet and he trusted me to tell his story. [… ] At first, he was a little disappointed that we couldn’t develop all that had been done previously, over his 23 years of collaboration with Aboriginal artists in different parts of Australia but in the end he was able to appreciate that we would concentrate on the most recent period.

Has the film been shown to the Arnhem Land community?

To be perfectly honest, we haven’t been able to organise a screening in the community due to a lack of means but the film was shown to Johnny Bulunbulun’s close family which was part of the agreement reached with the artists and show them the film before its circulation. […] In Australia, furthermore we have very strict rules, especially if the film is funded by the government. We have therefore been very careful to follow the dedicated protocol and to obtain the necessary authorisation. For the funeral in particular, we had to obtain agreement from all the members of the community. The film will be shown on national television on 21st February.

How long did the filming take?

Between two and a half and three years. Johnny’s death significantly slowed down the process by at least a year.