Collection Online
pencil, wash, ground wash, charcoal solution, gouache and earth pigments on paper
57.0 × 88.8 cm (image and sheet)
Accession Number
Indigenous Art
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1962
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Vizard Foundation
Gallery location
Not on display
About the work

The incursion of European settlers in Victoria in 1835 signalled the beginning of the destruction of the traditional life of its original inhabitants, the Wurundjeri people. Wurundjeri leader and artist William Barak resisted being controlled and coerced by gubba (white) society, turning to art as a way of maintaining his culture and fighting for the rights of his people.

Ceremony 1898 represents a nargee (public ceremony) at which songs and dances are being performed. The viewer is brought up close to the action. Barak’s dancing figures leave us spellbound because he takes us right inside the event from his own inclusive Wurundjeri perspective.
Barak evokes the music of the spectacle by capturing the dynamic movements of the swaying and leaping figures, which seem to project and recede in space. Below the dancers are three rows of female participants, subordinate in scale to the dancers and the commanding pair of elders who face each other in heraldic symmetry, providing a focal point for the lower section.

Unlike the performers who face the viewer, the women turn towards the Elders, or face each other in pairs. Their bodies are subsumed by a serpentine design, emblematic of their bodies swaying in time to the beat of the music, as directed by the Elders beating their clapsticks.