Artwork spanning a decade and telling important stories — mostly from Arnhem Land — is on show at the Queensland Art Gallery until late October.
‘Sung into Being: Aboriginal Masterworks 1984-94’ features more than 100 works by eight deceased artists, including Rover Joolama Thomas, Jack Wunuwun, John Bulunbulun, Jack Kalakala, Les Mirrikkuriya, England Bangala and Terry Ngamandara Wilson.
The paintings and sculptures come from the collection of West Australian businesswoman and philanthropist Janet Holmes a Court, who travelled to Brisbane for the exhibition’s opening on Friday.
Ms Holmes a Court began collecting work by Aboriginal artists in the early 1980s with her late husband Robert. Her private art collection now contains more than 5000 works.
“I actually saw an exhibition of works from (Western Deserts artists cooperative) Papunya Tula in London and they were just so dramatically remarkable and superb that I insisted that Robert have a look at them and then we bought that collection,” Ms Holmes a Court said.
“That was really the start of the Indigenous collecting.”
She said each of the artworks in her collection had a well-documented history and story. She said the artworks in ‘Sung into Being’ were meticulous pieces.
“They move me in a way I find difficult to describe,” she said. “Looking at these paintings you are looking at some of the great art of the 20th century. It’s pretty amazing to think this huge volume of work by Indigenous artists has come out of Australia. Very, very significant work in an international and national context.”
Among the highlights are paintings by Rover Thomas, who lived from 1926 to 1998, works on bark and canvas by Jack Wunuwun (1930–91) and John Bulunbulun (1946–2010) that present visual records of their clan manikay (song cycles).
England Bangala’s paintings feature mythological events and the wangarr (spirits) that created his lands.
Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art director Chris Saines said the works were from a period when Indigenous Australian art first began to be exhibited as fine art.
The exhibition is free to the public. It runs until October 22.
By Wendy Caccetta