MUNDINE, Djon et al.
They are meditating : bark paintings from the MCA’s Arnott’s Collection
Sydney : Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008. Quarto, illustrated gatefold wrappers, pp. 272, illustrated, fine condition.
Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney: 14 February – 3 August 2008.
‘They are Meditating: Bark paintings from the MCA’s Arnott’s Collection showcased over 200 rare and significant Aboriginal bark paintings from the late 1960s to the early 1980s held in the MCA Collection. Co-curated by Keith Munro and Djon Mundine, the exhibition explored the richness of early bark paintings alongside more recent practices by subsequent generations of artists.
The exhibition celebrated the diversity of artistic expression across areas of northern Australia, and presented the unique and individual styles of major artists’ communities in the region including Arnhem Land, Groote Eylandt and Calendon Bay, Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island), The English Company Islands, Liverpool River, Milingimbi, Glyde River, Maningrida, East Alligator River, Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), Cadell River, Croker Island, the Tiwi Islands and Port Keats.
The Arnott’s Collection was donated to the MCA in 1993 by Arnott’s Biscuits Limited. The collection comprises 273 barks and includes 42 works by Yirawala (circa 1903–1976), the largest representation of work by this internationally renowned Aboriginal artist. This impressive collection was assembled by American graphic designer Jerome Gould, who was attracted to the fine design and compositional qualities of the paintings and purchased the barks directly from the artists over two decades during his regular trips to Australia.
To mark the occasion the MCA commissioned a major wall painting at the entrance to the gallery space by Richard Birrinbirrin. The senior artist from the Central Arnhem Land community of Ramingining recreated the kingfisher design connected to the Djang’kawu sisters’ story. This story tells of sisters who travelled from the island of the dead to the East Arnhem Land shores and then westward across the land, creating fresh water springs and life wherever they walked. In the east their design is coloured red, yellow and white, and to the west a fourth colour, black, is added.
Also included in the exhibition, on loan from the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney, were the first recorded bark paintings from Arnhem Land, collected in the 1870s from Port Essington. Rarely displayed, these works mark the earliest acknowledgement within colonial Australian society of this art practice. By exhibiting older works alongside specially commissioned and more recent works, They are Meditating celebrated the strength, diversity and continuity of the bark painting tradition and regional styles of a living culture.
This major exhibition was accompanied by a publication supported by descendants the Arnotts family. The exhibition was assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council of the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, and Campbelltown Arts Centre.’ – Museum of Contemporary Art website https://www.mca.com.au/artists-works/exhibitions/they-are-meditating-bark-paintings-from-the-mcas-arnotts-collection/