Exhibit of Aboriginal Australian bark paintings on tour

  • Gunybi Ganambarr, Garrapara, 2018, natural pigments on eucalyptus bark, 64 x 21 ¼ in. Kluge- Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, The 201719

  • Djambawa Marawili AM, Maḏarrpa Miny’tji, 1996, natural pigments on eucalyptus bark,128 1/2 x 40 in. (326.39 x 101.6 cm). Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia Gift of John W. Kluge, 1997; 1996.0035.014 Neil Greentree—Courtesy

  • Yinimala Gumana, Wukuṉ Waṉambi, Kade McDonald and Henry Skerritt examine a work by Mathaman Marika at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Dan Addison / UVA Communications

Published: 8/30/2022 3:55:12 PM
Modified: 8/30/2022 3:55:00 PM

From a remote corner of Australia has emerged one of the most powerful painting movements of our time. Madayin: Eight Decades of Aboriginal Australian Bark Painting from Yirrkala traces more than 80 years of significant contributions to global modern and contemporary art by some of Australia’s leading artists. Curated by Yolnu people of northern Australia, Madayin invites you to experience this great tradition from the perspective of those who shaped it. With 90 seminal paintings — many never before seen in the United States — from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia and other institutions worldwide, the exhibition offers a rare opportunity for American audiences to experience the grace and majesty of this revered artistic tradition.

Organized by Kluge-Ruhe in partnership with the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in Australia, Madayin: Eight Decades of Aboriginal Australian Bark Painting from Yirrkala debuts at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art, which collaborated on its content and presentation, in Hanover from Sept. 3 to Dec. 4, before embarking on a sweeping two-year nationwide tour. The exhibition, which is the first in-depth presentation of bark painting in the U.S., will be accompanied by a comprehensive 352-page bilingual catalog (in Yolŋu-matha and English).

“Madayin extends the Hood Museum’s well-established commitment to Aboriginal Australian art,” said John Stomberg, Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s director. “These paintings represent an art movement unlike any other. This work, compelling and original, is thoroughly of one place: Yirrkala.”

For millennia, Yolnu people around Yirrkala in northern Australia have painted their clan designs on their bodies and ceremonial objects. These designs are not merely decorative; they are the sacred patterns of the ancestral land itself. Yolnu describe them as madayin, a term that encompasses both the sacred and the beautiful. In the 20th century, Yolnu people turned to painting on eucalyptus bark with ochres to express the power and beauty of their culture. The result was an outpouring of creativity that continues to this day as artists find new and innovative ways to transform their ancient mark-making traditions into compelling contemporary statements.

The artists of Yirrkala are at the forefront of Australian contemporary art. In recent years, their work has been included in biennales in Istanbul, Moscow and Sydney and in the Asia-Pacific Triennial, while being collected by major public institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum and National Gallery of Australia. The idea for the exhibition was born when acclaimed artist and Yolnu cultural leader Djambawa Marawili AM found his clan designs on bark paintings in American museums during a residency at Kluge- Ruhe in 2015. He suggested an exhibition that would tell “the whole story” of Yolnu bark painting from a Yolnu perspective.

As Marawili has stated: “The land has everything it needs. But it couldn’t speak. It couldn’t express itself. Tell its identity. And so it grew a tongue. That is the Yolnu. That is me. We are the tongue of the land. Grown by the land so it can sing who it is. We exist so we can paint the land.”

Madayin: Eight Decades of Aboriginal Australian Bark Painting from Yirrkala is the result of a collaboration that began in Fall 2015 between Kluge-Ruhe and Yolnu artists and curators, who have led the project at every stage of its development. The exhibition opens the door for Yolnu Aboriginal Australian people to tell the story of their culture and heritage. Recognizing Indigenous authority and leadership, Madayin is the first exhibition curated by Yolnu for an international audience. The exhibition, publication, virtual site and tour reshape how museums engage with Indigenous art and people, transforming institutional hierarchies of knowledge.

A key component of Madayin is the commissioning of 33 new works by important Yolnu artists Djambawa Marawili, Nyapanyapa Yunupiŋu, Gunybi Ganambarr, Noŋgirrŋa Marawili, Naminapu Maymuru-White and Wukun Waṉambi. This extraordinary selection of new work represents the finest body of bark paintings produced in the last three decades, complementing older works in the exhibition that date as far back as 1935.

After its premiere at the Hood Museum of Art, Madayin will travel to the American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center, Washington, D.C., Jan. 28 to May 21, 2023; the Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, Aug. 20, 2023, to Jan. 14, 2024; and the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, Feb. 22 to July 21, 2024. The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to the exhibition and study of Indigenous Australian art. As the foremost public collection of Aboriginal Australian art outside of Australia, the museum has collaborated on exhibition and education projects with public institutions across the world, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia and Musée de la civilisation.

Madayin: Eight Decades of Aboriginal Australian Bark Painting from Yirrkala is organized by the Kluge- Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Its presentation at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth is generously supported by the Charles Gilman Family Endowment, the Owen and Wagner Collection of Aboriginal Australian Art Endowment Fund and the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation. The exhibition has been made possible through the longstanding relationship between Kluge-Ruhe and the Yolnu community at Yirrkala.

More information about the exhibition can be found at madayin.kluge- ruhe.org.

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