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Painting on Country on display at the National Museum of Australia

14 March 2019

A ground-breaking exhibition which brings striking Indigenous rock art alive with large contemporary high-definition photographs, has opened at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Painting on Country is the result of an ambitious collaboration which resulted in ephemeral painting on rock being captured in perpetuity by dramatic photographic technology.

Five senior artists from Tjungu Palya art centre in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia have transformed their ancestors’ practice of painting directly onto country, with traditional ground pigment, into fine art.

The artists’ work, both timeless and transient, bridging the ancient and the contemporary, is captured in a series of large-format photographs which were bought by art collector Christina Kennedy who has loaned them to the National Museum.

The photographs, which measure over two metres, were originally part of the 2017 Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in Adelaide and this is the first time they have been on public display outside of South Australia.

The Painting on Country exhibition includes 27 contextual photographs of the artists at work, which are part of a limited edition hardcover book published by Tjungu Palya.

The Director of the National Museum, Dr Mathew Trinca, said, ‘This innovative exhibition illustrates how artists can use ancient techniques to create new work, and what better place to showcase this than Australia’s national museum.

'We are committed to a wide range of Indigenous programs which use contemporary means to make ancient practices relevant and this exhibition offers a rare insight into what desert art means,' he said.

Artist Keith Stevens said, 'A long time ago when we were young, our fathers and their fathers made drawings on rock to teach people but this is the first time we have done those drawings.'

'We wanted them to be big photographs because where we did the painting was on really large rocks inside big landscape, some have rock holes or special rocks and we wanted for those to be seen along with their stories,' Keith Stevens said.

Margo Neale, Head of Centre of Indigenous Knowledges, said, 'This is an excellent example of how a continuous culture can be made widely accessible in epic pieces, in a way that rock art can’t do, making it relevant to a younger generation.'

Christina Kennedy said, 'I am intrigued by the new rock paintings on the ancient landscape, the timeless stories captured with the new technology, and the ingenuity and creativity of the artists to conceive and capture this confluence.'

Painting on Country will be on display at the National Museum of Australia until 29 September 2019. Free entry.

Media contact: Diana Streak, 02 6208 5091 | 0422 536 064 or

Presented in partnership with Tjungu Palya and Christina and Trevor Kennedy

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