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NMA’s The Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists

Dilly Bag Fish Trap (1966) by Dawidi of Central Arnhem Land. Credit: National Museum of Australia.

Exhibition honors Australian Aborigines, Taipei Times, 6 October 2019

More than 100 paintings on tree bark by Australian Aborigines are on display in Taipei.

The Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists — 134 works of mostly tree bark paintings and clay figurines — opened on Friday at the National Taiwan Museum in Zhongzheng District (中正).

The works come primarily from the Arnhem Land region of Australia’s Northern Territory, the traditional home of the Yolngu people, said Margo Neale, senior curator of the Indigenous Knowledge Centre at the National Museum of Australia, which helped organize the exhibition.

“It is a very highly sophisticated way of passing on culture that survives today. These bark paintings are like messages on note paper, where you write information to tell other people things,” Neale said.

The paintings are like encyclopedias, because they hold the identity of the artist, she said, adding that if a person is knowledgeable enough, they can see the information embedded in the paintings.

Neale said that Djan’kawu Cross Back to the Mainland, painted by Djunmal in 1966, describes a mythical story of two sisters who came to Australia and dug holes in to provide the land with irrigation water.

“If you look, you can see the water holes and the digging sticks, and all of these different patterns refer to salt or fresh water and mud plains,” Neale said. “So it’s a geographical map of a particular coast at the top of Australia.”

The Aboriginal communities of Taiwan and Australia have closely related anthropology and genetics, Deputy Minister of Culture Hsiao Tsung-huang (蕭宗煌) said.

“The National Taiwan Museum and the National Museum of Australia are extremely proud to present this exhibition with the highest respect to Aboriginal communities,” he said.

When the exhibition ends on Feb. 9 next year, the works of art are to be returned to Australia.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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