Exhibition brings stunning contemporary works from Girringun Aboriginal Arts Centre to Melbourne Museum

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Exhibition brings stunning contemporary works from Girringun Aboriginal Arts Centre to Melbourne Museum
Small basket (Jawun), artist unknown, date: 1890s. Plant fibre, plant fibre string with natural red ochre. Courtesy of South Australian Museum.

MELBOURNE.- Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum presents Manggan – gather, gathers, gathering - the first national touring exhibition of contemporary works by award-winning artists from Far North Queensland's Girringun Aboriginal Arts Centre.

Connection to country and traditional culture is at the core of this project, aimed at growing awareness of a unique group of Aboriginal people in the wet and dry tropics region of Far North Queensland. The nineteen Girringun artists’ superbly handcrafted works are displayed alongside collection objects and reproductions of historic photographs from the South Australian Museum. Together, they provide a unique opportunity for Melbourne audiences to engage with the distinctive Aboriginal rainforest art traditions and culture of the Girringun region.

The Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, based in Cardwell, represents artists from nine Traditional Owner Groups: the Nywaigi, Gugu Badhun, Warrgamay, Warungnu, Bandjin, Girramay, Gulnay, Jirrbal and Djiru people. The traditional country of these groups covers some 25,000 square kilometres of country from north of Townsville. Objects from this country are significantly different from those of much of the rest of Australia. Weaving is done by both men and women, and the diversity of resources between land and sea have resulted in a vast array of implements being made to use.

Girringun Aboriginal Arts Centre Manager, Dr Valerie Keenan, has guided Girringun Arts Centre since it was established in 2008. She said, “Traditional culture is pivotal to the creativity of Traditional Owner artists in the Girringun region. This exhibition not only demonstrates this creativity but also provides visible evidence of an evolution of objects created for use, such as tools, to objects with a more aesthetic purpose."

The artists’ ancestral tools, Bagu (body) with Jiman (sticks), were traditionally used to make fire, but today have been transformed into an iconic art form by the Girringun artists. Made from clay, timber and string, and painted with ochres, these artworks evoke the spirit of the old people. Visitors will view large displays of Jawun; a style of woven basket unique to the Girringun region, hung alongside colourfully decorated Bagu both large and small, two films, archival photography, and stunning landscape photography shot by artist Debra Murray.

Dr Keenan continued, "The contemporary objects are instilled with newer values which reflect aesthetic taste, authenticity, economic pressures and an element of nostalgia. Displayed side by side, the new and the old, the objects create a dialogue of contrast and of change.”

Mr Abe Muriata, a Girramay Traditional Owner, said “I am a Girramay man, an artist and a weaver. I make Jawun, the bicornual basket. My work is a culmination of ten years’ learning and it has essentially been a re-learning of a nearly lost craft.”

Mr Muriata continued, “One of my Jawun is included in this show. Beside the really beautiful Jawun which has been loaned from the South Australian Museum, my Jawun pales in comparison. Honed by thousands of years of craftsmanship, the old basket embodies the perfection of skill at the hand of the maker who learned their knowledge as a kind of apprenticeship.”

Bunjilaka's presentation of Manggan features a selection of Museums Victoria First Peoples collection objects from the Girringun region. Museums Victoria's Far North Queensland forest collection includes over 300 objects. The objects going on display were viewed and investigated when co-curator Valerie Boll and exhibition artists visited Melbourne Museum in 2017, while developing the exhibition.

See this stunning exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum, where it will be showing alongside Victorian First Peoples language exhibition River of Language, and award-winning permanent exhibition First Peoples.

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