The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra is spreading its wings, placing Indigenous art at the front and centre of its collection.
It has undergone its biggest facelift since opening in 1982, with a new entrance and foyer, 11 new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander galleries, function hall, shop and cafe.
The building was originally designed to display only 1,000 works, which is now only a fraction of the gallery’s 150,000 piece collection.
Director Ron Radford says the new $100 million wing gives the gallery a front door and allows it to double the number of works on show.
“Between the new concentrated displays in the original building and these new Indigenous displays, we can now display well over 2,000 works,” he said.
The gallery is home to the world’s largest collection of Australian Indigenous art, with over 7,500 works.
The 11 new galleries are able to showcase more than 600 of those works, with each room representing a different geographic region or aspect of Indigenous art spanning the traditional and urban.
Franchesca Cubillo, senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, says the galleries show the diversity of Indigenous art over generations.
“The artwork comes from a cultural heritage that is tens-of-thousands of years old but it is also very contemporary, very dynamic and ever changing,” she said.
Many of the works are on show for the first time and some of the artists have taken the opportunity to sing or perform beside their works in their new home.
“Art is very much an integral part of our lives. It is a part of our upbringing, it is connected to our culture, it is part of performance and ritual and so we don’t separate the art from that cultural context,” Ms Cubillo said.
“Their work is not separated from ceremony or ritual.”
Ms Cubillo says the new galleries are a major milestone.
“It’s almost as if we’ve been waiting 60,000 years for this moment – where our art and culture can be respected, seen and celebrated,” she said.
“People have a chance to learn about who we are as a nation.
“This isn’t just a gallery or a space for Indigenous art alone. It’s a space for all Australians. It’s a part of our heritage. It’s part of our country and part of who we are as a nation.”