Sacred crayon drawings ‘return home’ to Territory


Bangaliwuy Marrawungu, Rirratjingu goannas & fishtrap 1947. © Estate of the artist.

Bangaliwuy Marrawungu, Rirratjingu goannas & fishtrap 1947, lumber crayon on butchers paper, 115 x 74cm, Berndt Museum, The University of WA. © Estate of the artist.

An exhibition of “sacred art” created by 15 ceremonial leaders from Northeast Arnhem Land in the 1940s will open at the Charles Darwin University Art Gallery next week.

It will be the first time that such a comprehensive selection of 81 crayon-on-paper works, comprising the landmark Yirrkala Drawings exhibition, has gone on display at home in the Territory.

It is also the first time the CDU Art Gallery has hosted a national touring exhibition by a major State public gallery.

CDU Art Gallery Curator Anita Angel said the exhibition, developed by the Art Gallery of NSW and curated by Cara Pinchbeck (Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art), was first shown in Sydney late last year, and then at the Queensland Art Gallery this year.

“The highly prized drawings are unique in the history of Australian Indigenous art,” Ms Angel said.

“They are part of a remarkable collection of 365 works commissioned by anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt in 1947, and held at the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia.

“They were created by 27 men of high degree, many regarded as among the most important Yolngu painters and statesmen of the 20th Century.

“The drawings are recognised by Yolngu as title deeds to country and sacred cultural documents, and are works of great beauty and aesthetic innovation.

“They are a testament to the strength of Yolngu art as an enduring and evolving visual language and an eloquent form of communication by pioneering cultural leaders and social negotiators.”

Ms Angel said the works’ vibrant colouration and striking compositions would challenge existing preconceptions of Northeast Arnhem Land art.

“We are delighted to collaborate with the Art Gallery of NSW and project partners, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka art centre and the University of Western Australia, in presenting this exhibition during the Darwin Festival.”

Ms Angel said that in keeping with a request from the Yolngu, the drawings would be acknowledged as “sacred art” through ceremony and song at the exhibition’s official opening.

The exhibition will show at the Charles Darwin University Art Gallery, Darwin, from August 7 to October 3. A floor talk by Yolngu Elders with exhibition curator Cara Pinchbeck is scheduled for August 7 at 12 noon in the CDU Art Gallery. Both are free.

Yirrkala Drawings is presented in association with Darwin Festival and is proudly supported by the Northern Territory Government and Festivals NT.

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