Exquisite exhibition reveals sacred Aboriginal ceremonies

A RICH and rare collection of 20 bark paintings by the Yolngu people from the 1930s and 1940s went on display at the Albury Art Gallery at the weekend.

Arnhem Land paintings and objects from Museum Victoria’s Donald Thomson Collection make up an extraordinary exhibition entitled Ancestral Power and the Aesthetic.

Yolngu elders Dr Joe Neparrnga Gumbula and George Milaybuma Gaykamangu attended the formal opening ceremony on Friday night by member for Farrer Sussan Ley.

The brothers are practising artists descended from generations of artists and Dr Gumbula is also an indigenous art scholar.

Museum Victoria’s senior curator of anthropology, Lindy Allen, said the barks collected by the anthropology professor were exquisite.

“They will blow people away,” she said.

Ms Allen worked with Yolngu people to add to the information Thomson gathered and to respect cultural sensitivities.

The gallery’s exhibition co-ordinator, Jules Boag, agrees the exhibition is spectacular but it is also valuable in dollar terms because the fragile arts works record sacred ceremonial patterns, known as minytji.

These were painted onto the bodies of ancestors in creation times or “spray-painted” by mouth on men and sacred objects for major ceremonies.

Some of the artists’ names are known but all are now deceased, while other names have been lost in time.

Smaller exhibits include items made from feathers, a highly decorated wooden paddle and others based on natural materials.

Several black-and-white photographs taken by Thomson illustrate how the Yolngu “wore” their paint.

Security devices were installed in the gallery to protect the eucalyptus bark, mainly from anyone touching the brilliant ochre colours woven into depictions of ancestors and animals.

The free exhibition runs until November 18.

Editorial — page 12

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