Aboriginal Art Amazes

The Past and Present Together exhibit at the Kluge-Ruhe in Charlottesville’s tie-in art book is a gorgeous catalog of art and essays.

(©Michael Jagamara Nelson; licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd.)

The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia’s Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past and Present Together) exhibit is a fascinating collection of artwork from Papunya Tula Artists in Australia. In some ways reminiscent of Native American art (specifically the idea of connecting to the land and to folklore) and in many ways very different, unique, and special, the works on display use ancient designs rarely seen by outsiders, created with whatever materials the artists had on hand. From humble beginnings, a multi-million dollar industry emerged, transforming the world of contemporary art and allowing a new voice for Indigenous artists.


Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past and Present Together): Fifty Years of Papunya Tula Artists, edited by Fred Myers and Henry Skerritt. University of Virginia Press. pp. 280. $29.95.


Here’s what the publisher says about the exhibit’s accompanying art book:

“In 1971 a small group of Aboriginal artists from Australia’s remote Central and Western Deserts changed the face of global art history. The township of Papunya was founded in 1959 as a settlement for Aboriginal people who were relocated from their homelands. Living in cramped conditions, the community brought together people of diverse backgrounds and languages. Painting offered a way of asserting authority: of explaining who the townspeople were and where they came from amid this chaotic mélange of strangers. Using ancient iconographies rarely seen by outsiders, an artistic renaissance sprang forth as artists defiantly asserted themselves against the uncertainty of colonial displacement.

Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past and Present Together) celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Papunya Tula Artists, from the very first experiments on scraps of cardboard, linoleum, and Masonite through to the epic abstract paintings that are showcased internationally today. Motivated by the artists’ desire to preserve and transmit their cultural knowledge, the movement quickly grew into a powerful medium for economic and social justice. From humble beginnings, a multimillion-dollar industry would emerge, changing the face of contemporary art and creating a powerful voice for Indigenous artists.”

The Past and Present Together exhibit is open until February 27, 2022. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

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