The Kluge-Ruhe Collection opened an exhibit of western desert art at the Embassy of Australia in Washington DC on June 14. Circles in the Sand: Aboriginal Art from Central Australia in the Kluge-Ruhe Collection features work from the art centers at Papunya, Yuendumu and Balgo dating made between 1971 and 2007.

The central desert of Australia stretches from Lake Eyre in the southeast to the Kimberley Plateau in the northwest. This vast and diverse area is the homeland to people representing many different language and culture groups. Much of the traditional art from the desert was painted on the body or drawn in the sand. In recent years, such ephemeral images have inspired more permanent contemporary art forms, specifically acrylic paintings on board and canvas.

Beginning in 1971 at a government settlement called Papunya, Aboriginal men produced paintings on masonite, wood and eventually canvas. This activity grew into a major art movement that radiated out to the neighboring communities of Yuendumu and Balgo. Men and women artists in each place developed their own local style of painting by varying elements like the palette of colors and quality of dots.

Elements common to acrylic painting throughout the desert were initially derived from sand drawing. Icons represent features of the landscape, ancestral beings and their activities in the creation era known as the Dreaming or Tjukurrpa. The concentric circles, wavy lines, and animal tracks that make up the primary design elements of the art of central Australia, express a traditional body of knowledge and relationship to land that has persisted for thousands of years.

Circles in the Sand includes paintings from the Aboriginal communities of Papunya, Yuendumu and Balgo in the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. The Kluge-Ruhe Collection came into being in 1997 through a gift by American businessman John W. Kluge. Containing over 1700 objects including paintings, sculpture and artifacts, the Kluge-Ruhe Collection is one of the top collections of Aboriginal art in the world and the only museum dedicated to the exhibition and study of Australian Aboriginal art in the USA.

The exhibit will continue through September 17 and is open for visitation 11 am “ 2 pm weekdays. A photo ID is required for entry. For more information about the Embassy gallery please call (202) 797-300 or contact