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Art Gallery of New South Wales explores the use of line across four generations of Koori artists
William Barak, Ceremony, c. 1895. Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat. Gift of Mrs A Fraser, 1934.

SYDNEY.- Murruwaygu: following in the footsteps of our ancestors explores the traditional line work specific to Aboriginal men from south-east Australia and its translation across generations. Curated by artist and former Art Gallery of New South Wales curator Jonathan Jones, this groundbreaking exhibition presents a dedicated focus on the region’s artistic and cultural practices from pre-contact to today. It is the result of over a decade of rigorous research into collections worldwide and ongoing consultation with community elders.

Covering an area that extends along the Murray-Darling River system, from New South Wales and Victoria to South Australia, the exhibition identifies the shared experiences, relations and ideas that bind together the Koori community – the 100 or more different language groups of south-east Australia – while also celebrating the diversity witnessed throughout region.

Jones said the exhibition creates cultural memory for the Koori community, giving the south-east region greater validity and supporting future generations of artists.

“Murruwaygu traces the use of line across four generations of Koori artists. Analysing its continuous use through significant social, political and cultural change, it reveals an enduring cultural tradition of great importance.

“The exhibition is not only a statement about Koori visual art practice but also cultural presence. My hope is that it will contribute to the wider cultural revival movements currently occurring throughout south-east Australia,” Jones said.

Bringing together shields, works on paper, paintings and video, the Murruwaygu exhibition is structured into four parts. Each represents a different generation of Koori art and showcases the works of two artists or art forms. In the first instance the exhibition explores pre-contact material, investigating two types of shields unique to Australia’s south-east region: the marga or parrying shield and the manggaan or broad shield. Carved from wood, these shields are objects of great aesthetic and cultural value with distinctive regional and national designs, patterns and creative styles.

The exhibition then looks to 19th‐century artists Tommy McRae, a Kwatkwat man from the central Murray River, and William Barak, a Wurundjeri man from Melbourne. Both these artists worked on the frontier and witnessed first-hand the colonisation of their country. They worked with the introduced mediums of paper, pens and pencils to recall the past and record the world they knew as young men, including ceremony and hunting. The exhibition marks the first time Barak’s work has been exhibited in Sydney.

From there, Murruwaygu features the works of self-taught senior Koori artists Roy Kennedy and the late HJ Wedge. Both Wiradjuri men who grew up on New South Wales missions they received little to no formal education, instead, coming to art later in life via adult education through the Aboriginal TAFE system at EORA College in Redfern, Sydney. Kennedy still works as a master printmaker, drawer and painter.

A range of contemporary works in various mediums by Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie and Gunai/Monero artist Steaphan Paton complete the exhibition. Both artists actively promote their unique south‐east cultural position and vision, with their practices strongly grounded in their respective cultural identities.

The Gallery has also produced a series of short films to accompany the exhibition that include interviews with Jonathan Jones, Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, Steaphan Paton, Carol Cooper and Uncle Roy Kennedy. These videos are available in the exhibition and on the Gallery channel.

The exhibition is part of a University of Technology, Sydney research project.

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