National Gallery holds First Nations Art Triennial  

by Sandra O'Malley


Paul House (Ngambri-Ngunnawal). Image: supplied

More than 35 artists from around Australia will showcase the centrality of ceremony in their work and how it connects their community, culture, and country in the National Gallery of Australia’s fourth triennial celebrating First Nations art.


National Gallery of Australia senior curator-at-large Hetti Perkins, an Arrernte and Kalkadoon woman, is collaborating with a team of Gallery curators for Ceremony, which opens in November 2021.


“Australia is home to the world's oldest continuous cultural tradition, and it continues in ways today that are very much connected to what artists have done over millennia,” Perkins said.


“Ceremonies are perceived as traditional and historical, yet, in fact, the ceremonial act, whether it be an intimate ritual or public demonstration, is an important part of everyday life.


“Ceremony makes the point that our culture has survived – not only over the many thousands of years but, particularly, the last couple of hundred years – because of its capacity for innovation and adaptability. That is something that distinguishes the work of our artists today.”


The exhibition will bring together a diverse range of artists working independently and in collectives in a variety of art forms. Dancer and choreographer Joel Bray is developing a new screen-based work that explores his embodied relationship to country as a queer Wiradjuri man.


In a first for the renowned Papunya Tula art centre, Mantua Nangala is creating a major new triptych depicting a significant ancestral women’s site near the saltlake Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay) in remote Western Australia.


Artists from the Yarrenyty Arltere and Tangentyere Artists collectives – led by Marlene Rubuntja – are collaborating in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) to create a soft sculpture in the form of a Blak Parliament House – an Aboriginal take on Australia’s political heartland.


A significant focus for the exhibition will be engagement with regional traditional custodians. Local NgambriNgunnawal Elder Dr Matilda House and her son Paul House will inaugurate murruwaygu, a permanent public art installation of traditional Aboriginal tree scarring in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden.


Wiradjuri artist and writer SJ Norman will present his Bone Library performance, where the artist will inscribe cattle and sheep bones with Walgalu words to interrogate the impacts of colonisation on culture and country.


“I’m really interested in the local culture and the local traditions of this place – Canberra is a very contested site. It is a place that is both politically and socially loaded, and we’re inviting artists to explore these ideas,” Perkins said.


“The idea of artists as ‘radical agents’ is central to Ceremony; with works that are active, works that are activist, works that activate.”


The artists exhibiting in Ceremony are: Robert Andrew (Yawuru) Joel Bray (Wiradjuri) Pepai Jangala Carroll (Luritja and Pintupi) Penny Evans (Gamilaroi) Robert Fielding (Western Arrernte, Yankunytjatjara) Nicole Foreshew (Wiradjuri) and the late Boorljoonngali (Gija) Margaret Rarru Garrawurra and Helen Ganalmirriwuy Garrawurra (Liyagawumirr-Garrawurra) Dr Matilda House and Paul House (Ngambri-Ngunnawal) Hayley Millar Baker (Gunditjmara) Mantua Nangala (Pintupi) SJ Norman (Wiradjuri) Dylan River (Kaytetye) Darrell Sibosado (Bard) Andrew Snelgar (Ngemba) Joel Spring (Wiradjuri) James Tylor (Kaurna) Yarrenyty Arltere Artists Marlene Rubuntja (Western Arrarnta), Trudy Inkamala (Western Arrarnta and Luritja), Dulcie Sharpe (Luritja and Arrernte), Rhonda Sharpe (Luritja), Roxanne Petrick (Alyawarre), Nanette Sharpe (Western Arrarnta), Sheree Inkamala (Luritja, Pitjantjara and Western Arrarnta), Rosabella Ryder (Arrernte), Louise Robertson (Walpiri), Cornelius Ebatarinja (Western Arrarnta and Arrernte) and Tangentyere Artists Betty Conway (Pitjantjatjara), Nyinta Donald (Pitjantjatjara), Sally M. Mulda (Pitjantjatjara and Luritja), Majorie Williams (Western Arrarnta), Lizzie Jako (Pitjantjatjara), Grace Robinya (Western Arrarnta) Gutingarra Yunupingu (Dhuwala)


Ceremony is made possible through the continued generosity of Major Patrons: Anthony and Suzanne Maple Brown and the National Gallery of Australia Foundation Australian Art Fund; Supporting Patron: David Paul; Exhibition Patrons: Pamela Pearce and Wally Patterson through the Patterson Pearce Foundation, and Annabel Myer and Rupert Myer AO through the Aranday Foundation; and Commissioning Patrons: Sue Dyer and Dr Stephen Dyer, Penelope Seidler AM, and Ray Wilson OAM.


For further information visit www.nga.gov.au


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