New book and website tell the story of a small group of Australian Aboriginal artists who changed the face of global art history – and the resources were produced by the only dedicated museum to Australian Aboriginal Art in the United States, the University of Virginia’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection.
The book and virtual exhibition accompany an exhibition in person in Kluge-Ruhe and retrace the movement of artists that began in 1971 in the township of Papunya, in the remote central desert of Australia. Motivated by artists’ desire to preserve and pass on their cultural knowledge in the face of great adversity and displacement, the movement quickly turned into an artistic renaissance that also served as a powerful vehicle for economic and social justice.
Papunya Township was founded in 1959 as a settlement for Aborigines who were displaced from their native lands. It brought together Indigenous people from a disparate array of language groups: Luritja, Pintupi, Anmatyerr, Warlpiri and Kukatja. Some had considerable experience with white Australians; for others, life in Papunya represented their first encounter with the colonizers.
Inside this bubbling, intercultural cauldron, a small group of men began painting their ancestral designs on pieces of cardboard, linoleum and masonite.
From those humble beginnings, artists eventually began to create the epic abstract paintings that roam the world today. A multi-million dollar industry has emerged, creating a powerful voice for Indigenous artists.
âPainting is a medium of expression of relationships, memory, sadness and joy, and also of one’s relationship with the country,â said Fred Myers, anthropologist and professor of silver anthropology at the ‘New York University, which began working with Indigenous people. artists in the early 1970s.
Artist Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri said: âThis is for all the people in America looking at the pictures, all the canvases:. “
The complete catalog and online exhibition, âIrrititja Kuwarri Tjungu | Past & Present Together: Fifty Years of Papunya Tula Artists â, not only presents the work of artists working for the company Papunya Tula Artists, but also reveals much of the collection of 2,200 objects of Kluge-Ruhe who never been published. The accompanying in-person exhibition will be on display in Kluge-Ruhe until February 2023. [Interested visitors can make a reservation here.]
Henry Skerritt, curator of Australian Indigenous Arts at Kluge-Ruhe, and Myers, co-edited the book, which is in progress. distributed by University of Virginia Press. Australian Ambassador to the United States Arthur Sinodinos came to Charlottesville on November 18 to mark the release of the publication at a private reception at the museum.
Partners who contributed to the research, exhibition and publication attended the reception, Kluge-Ruhe’s first hybrid event. Students at Skerritt’s Seminar on Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art made brief âwhirlwind toursâ of the artwork in the exhibit. Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa, Sinodinos and Skerritt spoke about the book and the project. Five contributors have joined them virtually from the United States and Australia: Myers at NYU, comedian and actor Steve Martin, John Kean, Marina Strocchi and Papunya Tula manager Paul Sweeney, who each briefly touched on their involvement.
The book features over 150 color plates depicting works of art, as well as essays from an extraordinary array of artists, curators, scholars and collectors, including a contribution from Steve Martin, who began collect Aboriginal art in 2015; and original research and consultations with artists and their descendants of John Kean, who was director of Papunya Tula Artists in the 1970s.
The website allows visitors from all over the world to explore the art and artists in the exhibition. This resource highlights the breadth of the exhibition in a virtual gallery centered around five central questions about the history of artists and their work. While it is designed to be accessible to the student, scholar and casual visitor with an emerging interest, it also includes lesson plans for teachers, produced in partnership with the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Now in business for 50 years, Papunya Tula Artists is one of Australia’s oldest and most successful Indigenous businesses. Artist Bobby West Tjupurrula said: âIt’s going to be a very good celebration for ‘Anangu tjurtangku’ (all Aboriginal people). All over Australia and in the museum in America which is a good thing because Papunya Tula has never failed. Still fine.
After its closure in Kluge-Ruhe, âIrrititja Kuwarri Tjungu | Past & Present Together âwill be the first exhibit at the opening of the new Australian Embassy in Washington, DC in March 2023.