Heart of Country

The "heart" of this exhibition is the relationship to Country expressed in diverse and sometimes oblique ways by four generations of Indigenous artists from Arnhem Land and beyond. Core works come from a remarkable private collection of bark paintings assembled by Donna-Marie Kelly and her partner Andrew Dyer, featuring some of the finest painters of Arnhem Land who are shown in strength - Yirawala (12 works), Bobby Badjarray Ngainmirra (7 works) and Wally Mandarrk (7 works).

This collection musters compelling evidence that, alongside the clear continuity of tradition in bark painting, there is also an openness to innovation. In recent decades, since women began producing bark paintings in quantity, the aesthetic is evidently shifting in surprising ways. The cohort of women is represented by major works - by the Yunupingu sisters, Nongirrna Marawili and Mulkun Wirrpanda for example.

By and large bark paintings propagate ancestral imagery (known to us also through rock paintings): clan designs, totemic animals, hunting scenes and representations of ceremonial events - all of which express myriad layers of relationship, custodianship and continuous connection between people and Country. These images reaffirm the sacred significance of the land. Furthermore, bark paintings have been and continue to be, a medium of exchange, communication and assertion of culture.

Prefacing the exhibition, contemporary works by Garrwa artist Jack Green invoke the sacrosanctity of his ancestral land, but highlight the trauma of its usurpation and devastation by corporate Australia.

A selection of bark paintings from the ANU Art Collection will augment the show. It has been said by Anne Martin, Director of the Tjabal Centre at ANU, that our collection of Indigenous art is a tangible reminder of "country that our students have travelled from, where ANU academics have walked on country  guided by artists who share the richness and knowledge of their ancestral lands.

The exhibition catalogue has been conceived as a unique educational resource. It includes commissioned texts by Associate Professor Brenda L Croft, Gloria Morales, Apolline Kohen, Susan Jenkins, Ace Bourke, and an interview with Will Stubbs by Lara Nichols.