From the external ultra-modern assertive geometry and scale, I moved into the National Museum of Australia, and the quietness and detail of bark paintings by “old masters”. For most of the two hours I spent in the galleries I was alone, so I could stand and look without interruption, a rare treat in front of such masterpieces.
All the paintings in the exhibition were made between 1948 and 1988, representing landscape, skyscape, rituals and animals of Arnhem Land. Their creators were not only supreme artists with a stunning mastery of colour, design, composition and fine detail. They were also ceremonial leaders of their clans and the stories their paintings tell are a complex of history and ritual. I could see the building of bark huts; and patterns of flying foxes or stingrays, axe heads or possums and sugar gliders. I could notice the fine white lines like stitching that gave the paintings the appearance of fabric or the thick white almost enamelled dots. But my appreciation was of the surface.
I asked for permission to use these images saved from the NMA website. Permission was given in the following words: “We actually licence our use of the images of the barks for all our uses including website, which also means low resolution versions are available for download. This enables people to use the images for ‘personal’ and ‘research’ purposes. I consider your proposed use is of a ‘personal’ nature.”
Many more images from the exhibition, and videos of the artists at work, can be found at
As I looked through this site to find images to share, I realised how many paintings I'd failed to see. I need to visit again.