Aboriginal Masterworks: A legacy of Australian cultural significance


A major exhibition of Indigenous Australian art, ‘Sung into Being: Aboriginal Masterworks 1984-94 including more than 100 paintings and sculptures by eight Australian Aboriginal artists from the Janet Holmes à Court Collection opens at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) from 22 July 2017.

The exhibition celebrates songs and ceremonies connected with the creation of the land, embodied by rich poetic narratives in paintings and sculptures by Australian Aboriginal artists from the Kimberley and Arnhem Land. Artists represented include Rover Joolama Thomas (c.1926–1998), Jack Wunuwun (1930–91), John Bulunbulun (1946–2010), Jack Kalakala (1925–87), Les Mirrikkuriya (1932-95), England Banggala (1925–2001) and Terry Ngamandara Wilson (1950–2011), from a creative period when these Indigenous artists were exploring new ground, and the works were acquired at the time with great foresight by Janet Holmes à Court and her husband Robert (1937–1990).

‘Sung into Being’ offers audiences a unique opportunity to access works by a seminal group of Indigenous Australian artists with an intimate knowledge of their creation stories and clan lands. The exhibition captures an intensely productive and exciting period when Aboriginal art first began to be exhibited and collected as fine art and embodies both the stylised aesthetic of the Kimberley and the colour palette and imagery of central and southern Arnhem Land.

Janet and the late Robert Holmes à Court developed their internationally renowned art collection together from the 1960s through to 1990 and Janet has continued the acquisition of works for the collection since Robert’s death. Motivated by a keen interest in Australian and Indigenous art, their resulting collection is a wonderful legacy of Australian cultural significance.

Rover Joolama Thomas, Kukatja/Wangkajunga, Australia c1926 – 1998 / The shade from the hill comes over and talks in language 1984 / Janet Holmes à Court Collection / © Rover Thomas 1984/ Licensed by Viscopy, 2017

The exhibition gives a particular focus to Rover Thomas, one of the first Indigenous Australian artists acquired for the Holmes à Court Collection. Thomas a renowned figure, forged new conventions in Aboriginal art and created new opportunities for the east Kimberley school of artists. He also opened the way for the general acceptance of Aboriginal art both nationally and internationally.

John Bulunbulun, Ganalbingu people, Australia 1946-2010 / Murrukundja Manikay (Song cycle) / Janet Holmes à Court Collection / © John Bulunbulun / Licensed by Viscopy, 2017

‘Sung into Being’ also includes two important series of paintings by brothers-in-law Jack Wunuwun (1930–91) and John Bulunbulun (1946–2010), depicting their clan manikay (song cycles).

An ambitious canvas painting by Wunuwun of the Banumbirr (morning star) Murrungun people’s creation narrative is expanded in 30 exquisite small bark paintings representing elements of the song and dance sequence. Bulunbulun’s series is a strong contemporary interpretation of the Ganalbingu people’s Murrukundja Manikay – the ceremonial songs and dances that tell the history of Macassan visitors to northern coastal Australia.

Jack Wunuwun, Murrungun/Djinang people, Australia / Banumbirr Manikay – (Morning Star song cycle) 1988 / Janet Holmes à Court Collection / © Jack Wunuwun 1988/ Licensed by Viscopy, 2017

Feature image: John Bulunbulun’s Murrukundja Manikay (Song cycle) (detail)