Australia's aboriginal bark paintings to tour China

China Plus Published: 2018-06-14 17:57:04
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A collection of Australia's aboriginal bark paintings from Arnhem Land, a vast wilderness area in the northeast corner of Australia's Northern Territory, are going on an unprecedented tour in China.

These delicate and rare bark paintings are being shared for the first time with the world. 

Aboriginal painter David Malangi and his bark painting [Photo courtesy of Australia's National Museum and the Australian Embassy in Beijing]

Aboriginal painter David Malangi and his bark painting [Photo courtesy of Australia's National Museum and the Australian Embassy in Beijing]

The Old Masters exhibition in China will feature over 150 paintings and objects of the most authentic bark art. 

For over 65,000 years, aboriginal people from Arnhem Land have been expressing their culture by painting the interior strip of a piece of tree bark using pigments from the earth.

Cultural consultant Jilda Andrews, who is of aboriginal origin, says the paintings help pass down traditions while at the same time connecting peoples and cultures. 

"I would like to invite people to understand these paintings as a performance as well. Because in the act of making bark paintings, songs are sung, rituals and cultural ceremonies are performed so that these cultural connections are made and remade again and again." 

One way the bark paintings reflect the culture of the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is through its rich symbolism.

Dr. Michael Pickering, senior curator of Australia's National Museum, says the symbols will tell their own stories. 

"In this exhibition, some of the meanings of those symbols are explained along with the painting to allow the people to see what the symbols might mean. I think, I hope Chinese audiences will engage with the idea of symbolism in aboriginal culture but also help reflect the importance of symbolism in Australian culture. "

The artworks of the Old Master collection that are touring China highlight the work of master painters and their disciples. They are part of the world's largest collection of over 2,000 bark paintings that have been housed at Australia's National Museum. 

Curator Matthew Trinca is hoping the exhibition will educate people on aboriginal people's long and diverse history when it comes to China. 

"My great hope is when the exhibition is here in China, that it will help the Chinese people come to an understanding of Australia and its long human history in the best way possible by learning about the lives of others in other places, in other times." 

Old Masters will open at China's National Museum in Beijing on July 3. It will then go to Shanghai, Chengdu, Shenzhen and Taipei.

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