Aboriginal Art in Canberra

The Aboriginal Memorial 1987-88, Ramingining Artists, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT.

Aboriginal Art in Canberra

Immerse yourself in a rich array of Aboriginal art in the National Gallery of Australia. A total of 13 galleries now showcase more than 7,500 works, from dot and bark paintings to watercolours, textiles, prints, ceramics and sculptures. Meander through different rooms, learning about the landscapes, Dreaming legends and historic events entwined with each art tradition. This important collection is a living, evolving expression of the world’s oldest living culture.
Aboriginal art is incredibly diverse but also unified, with stories and themes that consistently draw on the land and its spirituality.  Wandering through the huge collection of the National Gallery of Australia, you can truly appreciate the variety of artistic styles and mediums, as well as the common inspirations.

Each gallery space showcases Aboriginal art from a particular time period or region, such as the exhibition of Aboriginal artefacts from the 1800s. Discover spears, didgeridoos, baskets, ceremonial tools and objects that have weathered the test of time due to the skill and imagination of their creators. Another room exhibits the ancient bark paintings and sculptures of western Arnhem Land. Get up close to the distinctive X-ray designs found in Kakadu National Park and see Dreamtime ancestors depicted on crosshatching.

Learn more Early Western Desert painting, or the Papunya School, from the remote Papunya community of Central Australia between 1971 and 1974. Under the guidance of art teacher Geoffrey Bardon, the children, and later the senior men of Papunya began to paint their Dreaming stories on canvas. Their dot paintings marked the beginning of a style that spread across the Central Desert, transformed the Australian art market and became recognizable around the world.

See how the Papunya tradition has evolved in the next gallery, which displays desert paintings from 1975 onwards. These works are increasingly experimental, often using colourful and abstract styles and depicting historical or contemporary events as well as Dreamtime legends.

See the acclaimed watercolour paintings of Albert Namatjira, one of the first Aboriginal artists to adopt Western techniques. Also hanging are the works of other Aboriginal artists from the Hermannsburg Mission, who learnt watercolour painting from Namatjira. Together these paintings represent the Hermannsburg School art tradition.

Learn about the Wandjina stick figures found on rock paintings in Western Australia’s Kimberley region and see the screen-printed textiles crafted by the Anmatyerr and Alyawarr women of Central Australia. One gallery is dedicated to the vibrant art of the Torres Strait Islands, including their elaborate masks and more recent printmaking traditions. In another room you can follow an Aboriginal art trail across North Queensland and the Top End, taking in painting, sculpture and ceramics.

Contemporary Aboriginal artists, from photographers to urban painters, also have a powerful presence in the exhibition. Their works are political and often provocative, tackling present-day issues. One of the gallery’s most evocative installations is the Aboriginal Memorial. Completed in 1988, it marks two centuries of European occupation with 200 hollow log coffins.

Marvel at the diversity of Aboriginal art and appreciate it as a whole at the National Gallery of Australia.

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