The Museum of Contemporary Art is set to unveil a new exhibition showcasing its collection of rare and significant Aboriginal bark paintings, dating from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

They are Meditating: Bark paintings from the Museum Of Contemporary Art’s Arnott’s Collection includes work by internationally renowned master bark painter Yirawala (c.1897-1976), and highlights the dynamic stories and traditions closely connected to the land and sea country of northern Australia.

Co-curated by Keith Munro and Djon Mundine, They are Meditaing celebrates the diversity of artistic expression across areas of northern Australia. It focuses on major artists’ communities including Groote Eylandt, Arnhem Land, Wadeye in the west and the Tiwi islands “ each with their particular style.

To mark the occasion of the exhibition, the MCA has commissioned a major wall painting at the entrance to the gallery space by Richard Birrinbirrin (pictured above). The senior artist from the Central Arnhem Land community of Ramingining has recreated the kingfisher design connected to the Djang’kawu sisters’ story. This story tells of sisters who travelled from the island of the dead to the East Arnhem Land shores and then westward across the land, creating fresh water springs and life wherever they walked. In the east their design is coloured red, yellow and white, and to the west a fourth colour, black, is added.

They are Meditating explores the richness of early bark paintings alongside more recent practices by subsequent generations of artists from those communities and includes works by Mawalan, Marika, David Daymirringu Malangi, Tom Djawa, Jimmy Nakkurridjdjilmi Ngamjmira, Bardagal Lofty Nadjamerrek, Munggurrawug Yunupingu and Narritjin Magmuru.

It features 41 works by master artist Yirawala (c1897“1976), representing one of the largest showings of work by this internationally renowned Aboriginal artist. Yirawala was a member of the Naborn clan of Kunwinjku language whose traditional lands lie in the Marrkolidjban region straddling the Liverpool River, south-west of Maningrida, NT.

Also included in the exhibition, on loan from the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney, are the first recorded bark paintings from Arnhem Land, collected in the 1870s from Port Essington. Rarely displayed, these works mark the earliest acknowledgement within colonial Australian society of this art practice, at a time when Aboriginal people were widely believed to lack the intellectual capacity to create ‘art’ in any western sense.

The collection of bark paintings on show in They are Meditating was donated to the MCA in 1993 by Arnott’s Biscuits Limited. It was originally amassed by American graphic designer Jerome Gould, who was attracted to the fine design and compositional qualities of the paintings.

Jerome Gould’s interest in Aboriginal art is representative of a greater acknowledgment of Aboriginal art internationally from the post WWII-period. This increase in interest is believed to have been influenced by activities of anthropologists and art collectors such as American-Australian National Geographic expedition across northern Australia (1948) and visiting French artist-collector Karel Kupka (1960s).

They are Meditating is on view at the Museum Of Contemporary Art from 14 February until 3 August 2008. —


Artist: mawalan, marika, david daymirringu malangi, tom djawa, jimmy nakkurridjdjilmi ngamjmira, bardagal lofty nadjamerrek, munggurrawug yunupingu, narritjin magmuru, yirawala

Category: Media ,

Tags: bardagal lofty nadjamerrek , david daymirringu malangi , jimmy nakkurridjdjilmi ngamjmira , marika , mawalan , munggurrawug yunupingu , narritjin magmuru , tom djawa , yirawala ,

Gallery: Museum of Contemporary Art ,