Canberra, the capital city of Australia is truly a cultural hub in terms of the quality and number of internationally renowned exhibitions available. We felt truly spoilt.


First thing first, we visited the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the main research centre for Indigenous cultures, past and present, where we stocked up on books and maps. This building is conveniently situated adjacent to the National Museum of Australia, to where our next visit led us, spending the rest of the day in admiration of the bark paintings displayed at the Old Masters exhibition (no photographs were allowed). This Museum holds the largest collection of bark paintings in the world, with approximately 2000 artworks, out of which the Museum chose 122 barks for the exhibition ranging from the period between 1948 and 1988.

This exhibition showcased the work of Australia’s “old masters”: the Aboriginal painters from Arnhem Land, who carried out one of the oldest continuing traditions of art into the contemporary art forms, representing however just a fraction of the Museum’s bark painting collection to illustrate its richness, diversity and complexity. As per the introduction, “Old Masters” is a term rarely applied to Indigenous Australians, which is a refreshingly new approach to Australian bark paintings in celebration of the craft of master bark painters from predominantly Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. It indents to convey a message: these paintings are works of art created by outstanding Australian artists. In an effort to appreciate the magnitude of the artistic achievements of these men, curators and art historians have resorted to comparisons with the elite of Western European art: Yirawala has been known as the ‘Picasso of Arnhem Land’, and Jack Wunuwun, the ‘Michelangelo’. Indeed, Yirawala along with Narritjin Maymuru formed the backbone of the exhibition. Truly amazing experience, and not only did we enjoy the art itself, but also the fact that some of the stories behind the art were actually displayed and explained further beyond the general concept of certain elements translating to waterholes on the painting. This, together with the art works, provided us with a complex, in-depth knowledge of these artists and their themes.


The next day we headed to the National Gallery of Australia partly for the Inca exhibition, “Gold and the Incas – Lost worlds of Peru”.

The exhibition covered a great variety of art objects in history from the early Paracas art, through the Moche, the Nazca, the Sicán-Lambayeque, Huari, Chimú, Ica-Chincha and Inca cultures, in a very professional and most enjoyable manner.


The Gallery also hosts its permanent Pacific Arts exhibition, which we loved due to the high amount of Solomon Island figures and artefacts on display but it was also strong on the Bismarck Archipelago and the Sepik River art forms.

As photographs were not allowed at any of these exhibitions, we took plenty of photos of the architecturally flesh Museum building instead.


Date: February 2014

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