The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has created a virtual tour which takes its audience on a journey through the evolution of Indigenous art, from bark paintings to street art.

Marking Time: Indigenous Art from the NGV Exhibition Tour is a five-part series where the audience is guided by NGV’s Senior Curator of Indigenous Art, Judith Ryan AM.

The exhibition is spilt into five rooms which takes the audience from bark paintings and body painting to canvas work and street art. The exhibition features work from Iwaidja artist Paddy Compass Namadbara, contemporary Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie and senior Warlpiri women of Lajamanu in the Northern Territory.

Ryan created the exhibition based on the idea of the movement of Indigenous art and meaning throughout time.

“The images, the marks, the texts and inscriptions on rock, on ground, on body, on object, on … carved trees. I was thinking of all of those ancient signs and symbols,” she said.

“The visual language that is plastered on, in early times, escarpment in Western Arnhem Land, northwest and central Kimberley, we have beautiful cave art sights in Victoria. Handprints, iconography, the figurative design that were on bark shelters that were along the east coast of Australia.”

“I was thinking about how these ancestral designs, this language, continues to the present.”

“And how artists keep inventing ways of rendering these designs permanent and sharing them with the non-Indigenous audience, in a way of asserting the importance that they remain in charge of their own affairs, their culture is respect and it is the evolution of the modern art movement that we have witnessed.”

The first room of the exhibition features bark paintings and shelters, then continuing on to feature artworks of Warlpiri men who brought Indigenous art into the marketplace. 

The exhibition continues to feature contemporary artwork and has a dedicated room to women’s painting.

“Indigenous art—past, present and future—it occupies a continuum and the most exciting thing is that for the artist themselves their work will live on. And it’s not from the surface they are working on, it isn’t the medium, it is the integrity of these designs and their link to them which enables them to express so confidently the force of their identity,” Ryan said.

With NGV enabling online access to their exhibitions, particularly Marking Time: Indigenous Art from the NGV Exhibition, the gallery is able to connect with audiences worldwide and showcase some of the most powerful and historically integral pieces of Indigenous art.

“This is one of the world’s great art traditions and we shouldn’t forget that it is the longest continuing art tradition in the world, and it is something that we need to be more aware of and more respectful of,” Ryan said.

“This can stand alongside any of the great work made in the world and stand proudly alongside it and hold its own in any company.

“It is not transplanted from anywhere else, it has come out of this continent, it’s a tradition that has come from this place, these artists, this culture—it comes from the heart.”

By Rachael Knowles