The National Museum of Australia's collection of bark paintings is one of the Oceanic nation's great cultural treasures. Its international traveling exhibition, "Old Masters," will be hosted by the National Taiwan Museum from Oct. 4, 2019 to Feb. 9, 2020 to showcase one of the world's oldest undisrupted art traditions that stretch back for over 50,000 years.
Created by renowned Aboriginal artists from Arnhem Land in northern Australia, these rare and fragile works stand both materially and symbolically as emblems of the world's driest inhabited continent. They are literally born of the land, with bark stripped from trees and ochre and clay extracted from the earth.
These paintings speak of a powerful attachment to the land and reveal the extraordinary precision, perception, and imagination of the artists who made them. On seeing the work of bark painter Yirawala, Picasso reputedly exclaimed: "This is what I've been trying to achieve all my life."
Offering artworks plus carvings that share designs often used in bark paintings, "Old Masters" celebrates the knowledge, heritage, and creativity of 45 master artists including Narritjin Maymuru, Yirawala, Mawalan Marika, and their contemporaries. The artworks were all made in the last century, but incorporate patterns, motifs, and stories that have been repeated over millennia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have inhabited the Australian continent for at least 65,000 years and their rich and diverse culture is reflected in the barks' intricate designs.
Many link directly to ancient rock art and the tradition of ceremonial body painting. The shimmering brilliance created by fine crosshatching in some of these works is suggestive of ancestral power and sacred light. Through the stories and meanings they hold, these artworks serve as a bridge between the continent's First Australians and subsequent settlers.
‘Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists’
The exhibition will be accompanied by workshops and seminars featuring Australian bark artists and curators.
Dr. Mathew Trinca (left), director of the National Museum of Australia, receives an indigenous beaded necklace from the NTM Director Hung Shih-yu.
Representative Gary Cowan of the Australian Office in Taipei (left) and NMA Director Dr. Mathew Trinca (second left) witness the signing of a cooperative pact between the National Museum of Australia and the National Taiwan Museum.
Margo Neale, senior research fellow of the National Museum of Australia, gives a guided tour of the “Old Masters” exhibition in Taipei.
A press conference was held on Oct. 4 to introduce Australia’s bark paintings to Taiwanese exhibition-goers.
The exhibition features the works of 45 iconic and contemporary bark artists.