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Houston's first major museum exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art includes over 100 works
Installation view. Photo: Paul Hester.


HOUSTON, TX.- The Menil Collection is presenting Houston’s first major museum exhibition devoted to Australian Aboriginal art: Mapa Wiya (Your Map’s Not Needed): Australian Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale. The show includes more than 100 works created by more than 60 artists from different regions of rural Australia. These works represent profound recitations of Aboriginal peoples’ personhood, their Country, and the different intercultural spaces indigenous peoples occupy in Australia today.

Country is the foundation for the autonomous ways of the Aboriginal peoples. Vast deserts and rainforests with their distinctive rock formations and water holes, and other meaningful spaces, including the land on which cities have been built—these are the diverse terrains of their lives. They are places in which the laws and primordial creations of ancestors are always present, where painfully violent colonial histories are memorialized, and potential futures are reclaimed in song and dance. Knowing the land, moving through it, and living with its deeply embedded song lines animate the rich visual expression of Aboriginal artists.

In the Pitjantjatjara language of the Central Australian desert region, mapa wiya means “no map.” The exhibition title is derived from a recent drawing by artist Kunmanara (Mumu Mike) Williams (b 1952–2019) by that name. The artist’s recuperation of official government maps and postal bags is a pointed response to the foreign cartographies of the country that Australian Aboriginal peoples embody.

Said Curator of Collections Paul R. Davis, “Aboriginal peoples are the perpetual custodians of Country, and the works on view in Mapa Wiya are topographies of their knowledge—visual accounts of its living history, primordial and recent, ceremonial and secular. When visitors move through the five galleries of this exhibition, they will experience the diverse ways Aboriginal artists share their knowledge of Country with others.”

Reflecting on the long history of art making and different ways of Aboriginal peoples, Mapa Wiya highlights work created after the 1950s and includes paintings on bark and canvas, hollow log coffins (larrakitj, lorrkkon, or dupun), pearl shell body ornaments (lonka lonka or riji), and shields held by the Fondation Opale in Lens, Switzerland, one of the most significant collections of Aboriginal art. The exhibition showcases large, vibrant, and at times collaboratively painted works by internationally recognized artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932–2002), Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford (1922–2007), Emily Kame Kngwarreye (ca. 1910–1996), Gulumbu Yunupingu (1945–2012), Balang John Mawurndjul (b. 1952), and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri (b. 1950).

Said Director of the Menil Collection Rebecca Rabinow, “The Menil Collection and the Fondation Opale share the understanding that since the beginning, humankind has attempted to express its place in the universe through the representation of art. We are pleased to be partnering to present a museum exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art in Houston for the first time. Not only will visitors enjoy the energetic, dynamic, and wholly unique works on view, but also find that the display is aligned with the Menil’s mission to present works of art that address the day’s most pressing issues, just as our founders John and Dominique de Menil did for many decades.”

Mapa Wiya (Your Map’s Not Needed): Australian Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale is curated by Curator of Collections Paul R. Davis.






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