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National Museum’s Songlines exhibition wins most prestigious award for a museum or gallery show in 2018

6 June 2018

The National Museum of Australia’s blockbuster Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition, which showcases the ancient Seven Sisters Indigenous creation saga, has won the nation’s most prestigious award for a museum or gallery show in 2018.

Judged to be the most outstanding exhibition of the year, Songlines received the Best In Show award at the annual Museums and Galleries National Awards (MAGNA) ceremony, held in in Melbourne on Tuesday 5 June 2018.

Circular Indigenous artwork on a black backdrop.
Kungkarangkalpa – Seven Sisters, 2015, by Tjungkara Ken, Yaritji Young, Maringka Tunkin, Freda Brady and Sandra Ken, Tjala Arts. National Museum of Australia. © the artists. Licensed by Viscopy, 2017.

A world first in scale and complexity, Songlines showcases sections of five Indigenous Western and Central Desert songlines, telling the story of a journey made by a group of female Ancestral beings who are pursued by a powerful mythological, shape-shifting figure.

The breakthrough exhibition of stunning paintings, objects and interactive multimedia was led and cocreated by Indigenous communities and traverses three Indigenous lands – APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara); Ngaanyatjarra and Martu.

'This award is really a tribute to the work of the APY, Ngaanyatjarra and Martu people who led this project and worked with the National Museum to share and preserve the foundation stories of our ancient continent,' said National Museum director Dr Mathew Trinca.

'These communities opened their hearts and minds to share their Seven Sisters narratives with the world,' he said. 'The exhibition tells a story that resonates globally and places Indigenous story telling at the centre of the national imagination,' said Dr Trinca.

The National Museum’s Songlines senior curator Margo Neale said that Songlines sets a new benchmark for Indigenous storytelling in museums.

'This exhibition was initiated and co-curated by Indigenous communities who wanted to both preserve their culture for future generations and to share their stories with all Australians and the world – this is the model for future Museum-Indigenous community collaborations going forward,' said Ms Neale.

Key paintings and objects from the Songlines exhibition were centre-stage at the March 2018 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Special Summit in Sydney and the National Museum plans to tour the exhibition nationally and internationally.

MAGNA is open to all non-commercial museums and galleries and other cultural and collecting institutions who are members of Museums Galleries Australia. MAGNA is sponsored by Panasonic.


Media contact Tracy Sutherland, 02 6208 5338 | 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au


Songlines background

The Songlines project was initiated by Indigenous elders who set out to preserve the stories for future generations and to promote understanding of songlines among all Australians and the world.

A world first in scale and complexity, Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters showcases sections of five Indigenous Western and Central Desert songlines, utilising some 100 paintings and photographs, objects, song, dance and multimedia to narrate the story of the Seven Sisters, as they traverse the continent from west to east, through three states, three deserts and across some 500,000 square kilometres.

Since 2012, National Museum curators – led by an Indigenous Community Curatorium – have gone on country to track the Seven Sisters songlines. Along the way, Indigenous cultural custodians of the stories have produced art works which tell their aspects of the tale – many of these pieces will go into the National Museum’s National Historical Collection.

As a result of this project, research material collected by National Museum curators has been provided for upload into the Aboriginal-managed digital archive Ara Irititja, in Alice Springs.

Songlines ran at the National Museum of Australia from 14 September 2017 – 28 February 2018.

More on Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition