The Kluge-Ruhe Museum “ America’s only permanent institution displaying Australian Aboriginal art and educating Americans about it through associations with the University of Virginia “ re-opened earlier this year after refurbishment with a semi-permanent exhibition called Art and Country. It’s a selection of thirty-four works on canvas, paper and eucalyptus bark drawn from the permanent collection, exploring the range of ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists develop and maintain relationships with Country, their homeland.

Many artists represent features of the landscape to communicate their ongoing connection to their ancestral land and the Dreaming. Other artists raise awareness about the dispossession of country as a result of colonisation or investigate the importance of story and personal memory. Throughout the exhibition visitors are invited to reflect upon their own connections to land and place.

The Museum’s Director, Margo Smith added, One thing that we did in Art and Country is generalize the concept of “Country” to include artists like Agnes Armstrong who is painting memories of country, and Judy Watson who is addressing the impact of environmental change on ocean life, as well as (more traditional) artists like ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek and Charlie Egalie Tjapaltjarri. We have also tried to explain The Dreaming in a basic way while remaining as accurate as possible.

Opening on September 4th as well will be an exhibition of work by Ricardo Idagi, the multimedia sculptor and musician from Melbourne. His residency and exhibition (to Oct 4th), sponsored by Australia Council for the Arts, will provide a number of opportunities to meet the artist and learn about his culture and artwork.

Ricardo Idagi is a Meriam man who grew up on Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait. He was encouraged to produce art by two uncles, one of which was Eddie Koiki Mabo, who is famous internationally for winning native title rights to Mer Island in 1993. Idadi took a commercial art course at Cairns Technical and Further Educational Institute and settled in Melbourne in 1997. He initially gained recognition at the exhibition Ilan Pasin (This is our way): Torres Strait Art in 1998 and held his first solo exhibition in 2002. He has been included a number of major exhibitions over the last five years, and has won two prestigious Australian art awards: the Western Australian Indigenous Art Award (2009) and the New Media category of the 28th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (2011). His work is held in the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Queensland Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, among others.

The exhibition of Idagi’s artwork at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, titled Gurari “ Saltwater Drinker, brings together works from the last five years that serve as a visual memoir of Mer (Murray Island), Idagi’s home in the Torres Strait. The sculptures are made of a wide variety of materials, from raffia and feathers to beer cans and wrought iron. The works comment on political and social issues facing Torres Strait Islanders today, such as multigenerational alcoholism and the impact of the Anglican mission on the Island. The exhibition also honors the rich cultural heritage of Meriam people and Idagi’s own personal resilience.

Ricardo Idagi’s residency provides the rare opportunity for the community to learn from a leading Indigenous Australian sculptor. He will be present to meet visitors at the final Night at the Museum event of the summer on September 18, when the Kluge-Ruhe Collection throws open its doors to its expansive lawn for local beer, food trucks and live music. Visitors can engage with Idagi’s work in depth at a Gallery Talk on Saturday, September 20th at 10:30 am or at his Artist Talk on Tuesday, September 23 at 7:00 pm.

Idagi will also work with U.Va. students in a number of courses, and is the third resident artist at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection under its prestigious grant from Australia Council for the Arts. The exhibition and residency have been presented in partnership with Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne and the McIntire Department of Art at U.Va. The last resident was South Australian Nici Cumpston, who made a film (just released) showing her technique for colouring black and white photographs.