Current exhibition

John Mawurndjul banner

Charles Darwin University Art Gallery is delighted to present a survey of works by one of Australia's leading contemporary artists - master bark painter John Mawurndjul from 12 March 2021 until 29 May 2021. Developed and co-presented by the MCA and Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), in association with Maningrida Arts & Culture, this landmark touring exhibition includes over 50 works, spanning forty years of the artist's practice.

'Mawurndjul is not simply Australia's premier bark painter, he is one of our greatest artists of all time'
-John McDonald, Sydney Morning Herald's art critic.

'John Mawurndjul is the most celebrated bark painter living today... an artistic innovator on the world stage'
- Julie Ewington, The Monthly

John Mawurndjul AM is celebrated for his mastery of rarrk (cross-hatching) and his depiction of djang (sacred sites), a tradition shared by generations of Kuninjku artists. Bark paintings and sculptures drawn from private and public collections across the world tell the stories of Kuninjku culture and the significant locations surrounding the artist’s home in central north Arnhem Land.

Born in 1952, Mawurndjul lives and works in Milmilngkan in western Arnhem Land and Maningrida in central north Arnhem Land. Since his first exhibition in 1980, he has become one of Australia’s most widely recognised artists. In 1989 his work was included in the ground-breaking exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou and Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, and his works have been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Australia, America, Germany and Japan. He was the recipient of the Clemenger Contemporary Art Award in 2003, has received the Bark Painting Award at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory four times, and in 2010 was awarded an Order of Australia. In 2018 he received the highly prestigious Red Ochre Award at the Australia Council for the Arts, National Indigenous Art Awards, for his outstanding lifetime achievement in the arts.

John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new was co-curated by Clothilde Bullen (Curator,Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Collections and Exhibitions, MCA), Natasha Bullock (Senior Curator, MCA), Nici Cumpston (Artistic Director, TARNANTHI Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art) and Dr Lisa Slade (Assistant Director, Artistic Programs, Art Gallery of South Australia), with Keith Munro (Curator, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Programs, MCA) as lead Cultural Advisor; in close collaboration with John Mawurndjul AM, Kay Lindjuwanga, Ananais Jawulba and Maningrida Arts & Culture staff: Michelle Culpitt, Zebedee Bonson and Derek Carter; and interpreter/translator Dr Murray Garde.

The collections of the MCA and Art Gallery of South Australia form the genesis of the exhibition. Two barks - Nawarramulmul (Shooting Star Spirit) and Ngalyod (Female Rainbow Serpent)
(both 1988) were the first artworks accessioned into the newly-incorporated MCA Collection in 1989; and Namanjwarre, Saltwater Crocodile (also from 1988) is a cornerstone piece from the Art Gallery of South Australia Collection, representing a watershed moment in the evolution of the artist’s aesthetic.

In close collaboration with the MCA and Art Gallery of South Australia curatorial teams, John Mawurndjul led curatorial decisions and assisted in selecting the most significant artworks from his career. He was instrumental in determining the exhibition structure, which is grouped by places – or kunred – then animals and spirits, mimih, lorrkkon and etchings. The concept of kunred informs the artist’s practice, both in the materials used such as the bark of the tree, natural earth pigments and charcoal, and in the representation of ideas critical to an understanding of Kuninjku culture.

Language is an important component of this presentation, with bilingual texts embedded throughout the exhibition design – from the didactics and labels available in Kuninjku, to translated texts featured in the catalogue and on the website.

MCA Director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE said: ‘This exhibition will be a revelation. It recognises John Mawurndjul as one of Australia’s most important artists, and his contribution to the history of art and painting. The MCA has had a long-standing relationship with the artist, and we are very proud to have collaborated with the Art Gallery of South Australia to develop this
landmark exhibition.’

Art Gallery of South Australia and MCA curators Nici Cumpston, Dr Lisa Slade, Natasha Bullock and Clothilde Bullen added: ‘This artist-led exhibition has been an extraordinary journey across country and culture, with multiple voices working closely together to support and facilitate the artist’s vision. We hope that through the beauty of Mawurndjul’s art, and the extensive research that went into this exhibition, audiences will gain a deep understanding of the living history and culture of the Kuninjku people and their country.'

For more information and resources about the exhibition, visit

Visit our Past Exhibitions.

Copyright: Images of art work on this site are reproduced for the purposes of research and study only. Whilst every effort has been made to trace Copyright holders, we would be grateful for any information concerning Copyright of the images and will withdraw them immediately upon the Copyright holder’s request.

CDU Art Collection and Art Gallery

Building Orange 12.1.02
Casuarina campus
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Gallery opening hours:
Wed-Fri, 10am-4pm
Sat, 10am

Dr Joanna Barrkman

Eileen Lim
Exhibitions & Collection Officer

T: 08 8946 6621

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University Art Museums Australia (UAMA)