Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday, 11am-5pm

Watson Road

Observatory Hill (The Rocks)

Heart of Country: Arnhem Land Barks

  • This event finished on 11 September 2022

30 July – 11 September 

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. The works come from a remarkable private collection of bark paintings assembled by Donna-Marie Kelly and Andrew Dyer, featuring some of the finest painters of Arnhem Land who are shown in strength – Yirawala, Bobby Barrdjaray Nganjmirra and Wally Mandarrk.

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 the late Mulkun Wirrpanda.

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.

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

Presented in association with the Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra


John McDonald – Hooked for decades: The works at the top of an art critic’s shopping list, The Sydney Morning Herald

image: Mary Nongirrna Marawili  Batpa 2014  earth pigments on stringybark 197 x 56 cm Dyer Family collection © Mary Nongirrna Marawili, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, 2022