Kumwinjku man, Dick Nguleingulei Murrumurru went 'Mimih Hunting' in 1980. Does the Mimih stand a chance??

Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 29.06.18

Dates: 30.06.18

A lengthy article appeared in a recent issue of The Australian's Review supplement announcing that old Aboriginal barks were setting out to tour China, but also featuring heavily a jolly Chinese comedian. It appears that he is the cultural ambassador for this tour and it quotes him as saying there are "tangible connections between ancient Chinese and ancient Aborginal cultures". Apart from both cultures' enthusiasm for Dragons/Rainbow Serpents, and, in more recent times, China as a destination for Aussie trepang, it's not obvious what he could mean.

And it's certainly not true, as suggested that it's the first time old barks have travelled abroad. Indeed, some of the works in this very exhibition, which features more than150 artworks and objects, was taken by the late Lance Bennett on an extensive tour of Japan in the 1960s, and were identified as being from the Bennett Collection when seen in the 'Old Masters' show at the National Museum in Canberra in 2013 which is the basis for this tour.

But, as the NMA puts it, this is "an unprecedented exhibition tour of Arnhemland artworks across China. And the exhibition will tour mainland China for 20 months before heading to Taiwan, reflecting the strong international interest in Australian Indigenous art and culture. The 'Old Masters' exhibition opens at the National Museum of China in Beijing on 3 July 2018 and nationally acclaimed performer and advocate for traditional Chinese culture, Guo Degang will serve as a cultural ambassador in China for the National Museum of Australia".

"Old Masters highlights the work of master painters, from western, central and eastern Arnhemland,” said Dr Michael Pickering, senior curator at the National Museum, which houses more than 2000 works of art on bark, the world’s largest and richest collection of bark paintings. "The three different regions represented have very different painting styles and we know overseas audiences will be fascinated by their depictions of Australian plants, animals and Indigenous culture".

The exhibition will feature masters including Yirawala and his School from the West, Narritjin Maymuru and Mawalan Marika from the East, and David Malangi and Tom Djawa from Central Arnhemland. The 123 barks were painted between 1948 and 1985, and include the 1981 'Rainbow Serpent' by John Mawurndjul – making him the only 'Old Master' still alive.

Dr Mathew Trinca, director of the National Museum of Australia, said it was "deeply affirming" to see growing interest abroad in Indigenous art and stories. "I think these are some of the greatest treasures of our nation. They are the works that speak of the long human history of this continent from a very special part of Australia”.

Dr Trinca said he was quite taken aback by the sense of anticipation in China at the prospect of seeing these works. “We're very focused on the idea that we need to communicate Australian stories abroad... it's an important part of the mission of the National Museum of Australia to be taking stories like these overseas," he said.

Meanwhile, in that other ancient and populous nation, India, an exhibition of over 100 artworks by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists has opened in the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. 'Indigenous Australia: Masterworks from National Gallery of Australia' is a joint venture of the NGMA and the National Gallery of Australia, and features a range from paintings, prints, and photographs to sculptures and installations, revealing a great diversity of artistic styles and their recent developments.

According to the exhibition’s curator Franchesca Cubillo, Aboriginal art emanates from the iconography around sacred sites, ancestors and mythology, and also pointed out the “diversity in aesthetic and style” that these works have.

“From rare, historical drawings and a shield by William Barak via Albert Namatjira to the dynamic Desert painting movement, to contemporary urban Aboriginal art by the likes of Fiona Foley and Brenda Croft, these works are a testament to the expertise, rich cultural knowledge and ingenuity of their creators,” NGA Director Gerard Vaughan said in a statement. But no barks for the Indians.

“Indigenous Australia: Masterworks from National Gallery of Australia” is open for public viewing at NGMA until August 26. Previously, this touring show was in Berlin.

Talking of which city.....

Sculpture Park Wesenberg at Am Weissen See in Mecklenburg, just outside Berlin was opened to the public in June 2016. The inaugural exhibition included 23 large scale outdoor sculptures installed in the natural forest grounds, as well as a number of indoor sculptures and paintings installed in purposely built exhibition galleries. Incredibly, they're mostly by Australian artists with the aim of fostering cultural exchanges with German artists. The highlight of this permanent exhibition is works by the sculptors Inge King and Erwin Fabian, both born in Berlin in November 1915 but long-term residents Downunder.

For its first anniversary celebrations in 2017, exhibits of Australian Indigenous art were shown, including works from Arnhemland and the Torres Strait Islands in Northern Australia.

This year, opening art events include a Spinifex Artists exhibition showing paintings with a bold and colourful scheme to be curated by our long-term exhibition partner – Artkelch; and a relaunch of the Torres Strait Islander art curated by Stéphane Jacob of Arts d'Australie in Paris, with a film produced and directed by Phil Cairney, showing the artistic and environmental aspects of Ghost Nets.

Concerts will open the celebrations over the weekend June30th/July1st.

Fiona Foley 'HHH' (2004)

Dick Nguleingulei Murrumurru
Mimih Hunting, about 1980
National Museum of Australia
© the artist’s estate, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency

Yirawala Kangaroo?
Rover's Roads Cross ?


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Rover Thomas's iconic painting 'Roads Meeting' (1987) - which contributed to the title of his one-man show at the National Gallery, 'Roads Cross' in 1994. Now to be sen in Delhi.


Contemporary Blak artist Fiona Foley offers her colourfuil take on the KKK - her 'HHH' (2004) - also in Delhi.


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