Aboriginal language names for Art Gallery of New South Wales buildings

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Aboriginal language names for Art Gallery of New South Wales buildings
Exterior view of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Naala Badu (L) and Naala Nura (R), photo © Iwan Baan.

SYDNEY.- The new Art Gallery of New South Wales building designed by SANAA as the centrepiece of the Sydney Modern Project has been given the Aboriginal name Naala Badu, meaning ‘seeing waters’ in the Sydney language.

In Naala Badu, overlooking Sydney Harbour on the unceded land of the Gadigal, visitors are first welcomed by the Yiribana Gallery devoted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

The original Art Gallery building with its 19th-century sandstone facade facing the Domain parklands and the city beyond has also received a Sydney language name, Naala Nura, meaning ‘seeing Country’.

Together, the two buildings comprise the expanded art museum. The name of the 153-year-old institution is unchanged as the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

These new names for our two buildings draw on both their architecture and their location, on Gadigal Country. Naala Badu references both the adjacent waters of Sydney Harbour and those that have always sustained communities throughout the state. Naala Nura acknowledges both Indigenous Country in general and the golden sandstone of the Art Gallery’s original building, hewn from local Country.

The Art Gallery engaged extensively with key Aboriginal stakeholders and communities, including the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, about receiving Aboriginal names for its buildings. This process was supported by the Art Gallery's Board of Trustees, Indigenous Advisory Group and Indigenous Art Gallery staff.

Indigenous Advisory Group chair Rachel Piercy said: ‘Aboriginal language has a deep and spiritual connection to Country. We hope this can be felt by everyone when the building names Naala Badu and Naala Nura are used by the community and visitors to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.’

Art Gallery director Michael Brand said: ‘We are greatly honoured that the Art Gallery’s two buildings on this significant site in Sydney will bear the Aboriginal names Naala Badu and Naala Nura. They evoke a powerful sense of place – this place of extraordinary physical beauty with its complex, contested histories. We intend to carry these names with the deepest respect.

‘Over the past decade, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has set out to forge an even brighter future for our much-loved art museum following the once-in-a-generation Sydney Modern transformation. At the heart of our vision is recognition of the uniqueness of our location and the layering of its histories, along with a profound respect for Indigenous knowledge and language,’ said Brand.

Art Gallery president of the Board of Trustees, David Gonski said: ‘Together the names Naala Badu and Naala Nura highlight and celebrate the importance of the Art Gallery of New South Wales as a leading public institution and amplifies the history and cultural significance of the land on which our state’s pre-eminent, 153-year-old art museum stands.’

Since its establishment in 1994, the Yiribana Gallery has embodied its name’s directional intent – Yiribana meaning ‘this way’ in the Sydney language – by fostering change and inviting the broader institution to embrace Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, culture, and, above all, its people. As part of this ethos, the Art Gallery has established a First Nations department of 13 staff members drawn from both curatorial and education fields. Led by Cara Pinchbeck, this team has the expertise and vision to respond to both local, national and international First Nations art and culture.

Reflecting on the impact of Yiribana and the new building names, Art Gallery trustee and inaugural chair of the Art Gallery’s Indigenous Advisory Group, Tony Albert said: ‘As an Indigenous Australian for whom English is my second language, having not had the opportunity to learn my first language, I applaud the gift of living, breathing language for the Art Gallery’s two buildings. With the spotlight on the Art Gallery’s new initiatives for Aboriginal art and culture, we've created a globally renowned art destination where visitors can experience the best art and culture Australia has to offer.’

The new names are displayed on both buildings as of today – Naala Badu, our north building, and Naala Nura, our south building, and will be reflected across the Art Gallery's online and published materials.

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