Tarnanthi, the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA)’s annual festival celebrating Indigenous contemporary art, will this year focus on master bark painter John Mawurndjul through the major touring exhibition, I am the old and the new. Tarnanthi alternates between an expansive city-wide festival one year, followed by a focus exhibition the next, as well as the annual art fair at Tandanya.
I am the Old and New, which presents stories central to Kuninjku culture, was co-curated by the AGSA, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Mawurndjul and Maningrida Arts & Culture, and is the culmination of three years of work.
“It’s a really amazing project because we’ve been led by the artists and we’re working with Mawurndjul in his first language of Kuninjku, so we’re able to share his journey through his country in his words,” says artistic director Nici Cumpston.
The exhibition celebrates Mawurndjul’s 40-year career as an artist and in particular his mastery of ‘rarrk’ (cross-hatching) and his depiction of ‘Djang’ (sacred sites). On display are a large number of his bark paintings along with a series of etchings, his hollow log coffins and a suite of ‘mimih’ – the tall, skinny, mischievous spirits that live in the rocky country. “Just to see the fineness of the ‘rarrk’ in the paintings and the way he creates the shimmery powerful effect is quite phenomenal. It’s also incredible to see so many paintings at once, it’s really powerful,” says Cumpston.
Created especially to accompany the exhibition is a website, johnmawurndjul.com. Here visitors can learn Kuninjku and travel through country visiting significant sites. “It’s fantastic you can travel through country and go to all of the different sites and hear how to pronounce their names. In some cases, there is footage of Mawurndjul talking about a place or talking about a particular painting that relates to it,” explains Cumpston.
JOHN MAWURNDJUL: I AM THE OLD AND THE NEW shows at Tarnanthi, Art Gallery of South Australia from 26 October 2018 to 28 January 2019.
Image: Installation view of ‘John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and MCA, Sydney. Photo: Jessica Maurer