Reko Rennie<br/>
<em>Initiation</em> 2013 <!-- (recto) --><br />

synthetic polymer paint on plywood<br />
(a-oo) 300.0 x 520.0 cm (overall)<br />

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased with funds donated by Esther and David Frenkiel, 2014<br />
2014.41.a-oo<br />

© Reko Rennie, courtesy blackartprojects, Melbourne
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Reko Rennie
Initiation 2013
Media Release • 8 Apr 15

Indigenous Art: Moving backwards into the future

Significant historical and contemporary Indigenous art works will sit side by side, exploring place and identity in Indigenous Art: Moving backwards into the future at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia from 4 April. The exhibition will explore the past 130 years of Indigenous Australian history through the NGV’s Indigenous Art collection.

The works range from 19th-century shields and drawings, works in ochre on bark and Western Desert paintings to contemporary works which use modern media of glass, photography and light to reinterpret ancestral stories and symbols in new ways. The exhibition explores recurring visual language, materials and subjects used in Indigenous art, such as geometric symbols, cross hatching and dots as well as ancestral spirits and ceremonies, which are used to represent Indigenous culture across time and space.

The exhibition coincides with the launch of a significant new publication, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria which explores over 100 works in the NGV’s collection. The book will give an unprecedented insight into the collection and a comprehensive history of Indigenous visual culture.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, ‘This exhibition showcases some of the finest examples of Indigenous art from the NGV’s rich collection as well as new contemporary acquisitions, which demonstrate the ingenuity and inspired interpretations of Indigenous artists. The NGV’s collecting practice has prioritised work which informs and challenges mainstream perceptions of Indigenous art and culture. Indigenous art has enriched Australia for millennia and this exhibition shows the depth and breadth of the NGV’s Indigenous art collection.’

Many significant works from the NGV’s collection will be on display together for the first time, including works by revered Indigenous artists including William Barak, the head man of the Wurundjeri people and the first Indigenous artist of renown in the 19th century; Rover Thomas who developed a visionary way of representing the land, paring down the topographical features to the barest essentials and Emily Kam Kngwarray, who came to prominence in the late-1980s, for her bold and large-scale paintings, which conceptualised her father’s Country, Alhalker, with single, continuous curved lines.

A collection of 26 Spirit Figures carved from jungle trees and depicting ancestral figures from many different clan estates will be shown together for the first time in 20 years. These striking tall, sculptural spirit figures were carved by 16 artists from Maningrida in Central Arnhem Land.

New acquisitions on display for the first time include Robert Andrew’s kinetic work, Moving out of muteness, which uses water to wash away layers of the chalk ‘whitewash’ of colonisation and uncover text written in ochre in Andrew’s Yawuru language and photographer Michael Cook’s 2014 series of photographs titled Majority Rule which imagines Australia with a 96 per cent Aboriginal population. Torres Strait Islander George Nona’s seven Dhoeri (ceremonial headdresses) are representative symbols of Islander pride in sculptural form.

Important contemporary works on show include Yhonnie Scarce’s glass installation referencing policies of assimilation; Reko Rennie’s ‘deadly’ assemblage work Initiation juxtaposing icons of the working-class suburb of Footscray where he was raised with Aboriginal political mantras and symbols of Aboriginal sovereignty and Julie Gough’s driftwood, pumice and coal neckpieces, which are memorials to the Tasmanian shell-necklace tradition which was threatened by dispossession and loss of language.

For five weeks from 12 April to 10 May, in a first for the NGV, a new adult education course will be run in conjunction with the exhibition as part of the NGV’s commitment to lifelong learning. The course will explore different systems of representation in Indigenous art, introducing many of its important artists, both historical and contemporary. Weekly guest speakers will address themes spanning the origins and context of significant aspects of Indigenous art practice, revealing the ways artists have responded to change and have incorporated new aesthetic principles and artistic concepts, images and techniques over time. Speakers include NGV Senior Curator, Indigenous Art, Judith Ryan; artists Maree Clarke, Jonathan Jones, Steaphan Paton, Marina Strocchi, and John Wolseley; Founding Manager of Martumili Artists, Gabrielle Sullivan; artist and curator Nici Cumpston; Indigenous Australian art curator, QAGOMA, Bruce McLean; independent curator John Kean and Carol Cooper, National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

The publication, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, will be launched at the course and is available from the NGV design store for $24.95.

Indigenous Art: Moving backwards into the future will be on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square from 4 April – 4 October, 2015. Open 10am-5pm, closed Mondays.

Indigenous Art: Moving backwards into the future Course
Week 1 Sun 12 Apr – Present tense: Past legacy
Week 2 Sun 19 Apr – Symmetries and asymmetries in ochre
Week 3 Sun 26 Apr – Ways of mapping country
Week 4 Sun 3 May – Fracturing reality: Contemporary women’s painting practice
Week 5 Sun 10 May – Charting cultural dissonance: Art that is radical and reactionary
Weekly program fee: $48 A / $45 C / $40 M / $25 S
Series program fee: $225 A / $210 C / $185 M / $110 S

Curator’s Perspective: Symmetries and Asymmetries in Ochre
Thursday 28 May 11am
Judith Ryan, NGV Senior Curator, Indigenous Art, discusses historical and contemporary works made in ochre by Indigenous Australian artists.
Cost: Free
Venue: The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, exhibition space

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