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17 March 2018

Groundbreaking Seven Sisters exhibition heads to Sydney

The groundbreaking National Museum of Australia exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, which features a dramatic chase across the Australian deserts will headline at the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — Australia Special Summit in Sydney.

A world first in scale and complexity, Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is an ancient creation saga told in paintings and photographs, objects, song, dance and multimedia narrating 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.

Key pieces from the exhibition, which debuted at the National Museum in Canberra over summer, will be on display in the ASEAN Leaders' Lounge when regional heads meet between 16–18 March 2018.

A person looking at the snake sculptures in the Songlines exhibition.
Snake sculptures, 1982–92, by Ikula, Niningka Lewis, Mildred Nyunkiya Lyons, Nora, Jean Inyalanka Burke, Billy Cooley, Pulya Taylor, Nellie Nungarrayi Patterson, Tiger and Kanginy, Maruku Arts. National Museum of Australia. Copyright the artists/Copyright Agency, 2018

The Songlines project was initiated by Indigenous elders who set out to preserve the Seven Sisters Dreaming for future generations and to promote global understanding of the stories, versions of which are told worldwide.

‘We are delighted ASEAN leaders will have the opportunity to experience this unparalleled exhibition, which has been embraced by Australian audiences after more than five years of collaboration between Indigenous communities and the National Museum – nothing of this scale has been attempted before,’ said National Museum director, Dr Mathew Trinca.

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters traverses three Indigenous lands – APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara); Ngaanyatjarra and Martu.

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is an epic tale, foundational to the creation of the Australian continent and we are proud to take it to an international audience,’ said the National Museum’s lead Indigenous Songlines curator, Margo Neale.

The ASEAN display will feature four key pieces from the exhibition: two stunning collaborative circular canvases respectively painted by Martumili (Martu) artists and artists from APY Lands; an installation of eight ceramic pots by Ernabella Arts utilising bush foods to narrate the Seven Sisters story; and a stunning installation of carved wooden snakes from the Central Desert, representing the male Ancestral figure who pursued the sisters across the land.

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters portrays the drama of creation, desire, flight and survival by telling the story of a journey made by a group of female Ancestral beings who are pursued by a powerful, shapeshifting figure. A story of mythological proportions with universal meaning that resonates with other epic sagas from other great civilisations.

Since 2012, 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. 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.

Media contact: Tracy Sutherland, (02) 6208 5338 / 0438 620 710 or

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