Organized by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

About the Exhibition

Maḏayin is the most significant exhibition of bark painting to tour the United States. It presents eight decades of one of Australia’s most unique contributions to global contemporary art.

For millennia, Yolŋu people around Yirrkala in northern Australia have painted their sacred clan designs on their bodies and ceremonial objects. These designs—called miny’tji—are not merely decorative: they are the sacred patterns of the ancestral land itself. Yolŋu people describe them as maḏayin: a term that encompasses both the sacred and the beautiful. With the arrival of Europeans in the twentieth century, Yolŋu people turned to the existing medium of painting on eucalyptus bark with ochres to express the power and beauty of their culture. The result was an outpouring of creativity that continues to this day as artists find new and innovative ways to transform their ancient clan designs into compelling contemporary statements.

Drawn from the world’s most important holdings of Aboriginal bark paintings, including the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, the University of Melbourne, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Maḏayin will survey eight decades of artistic production at Yirrkala, from 1937 to the present, including 33 new works commissioned especially for the exhibition through the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Center at Yirrkala.

The curatorial team includes both Yolŋu and non-Indigenous curators. The paintings on bark will be accompanied by an extensive media component including video, audio recordings and archival photographs, developed by the Aboriginal media unit at Yirrkala, The Mulka Project. The exhibition will tour the USA in 2022-2024.

Maḏayin will offer a rare opportunity for American audiences to experience the grace and majesty of one of the world’s richest artistic traditions. The exhibition shows bark painting to be a dynamic tradition, brought forward by the artists of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Center at Yirrkala. Ancient mark making traditions are carried into the present through the passion and artistry of these leading artists. Here in a remote corner of Australia has emerged one of the most powerful painting movements of our time.

Explore Exhibition Highlights

  • MITHINARI GURRUWIWI
    Naypinya
    1963
    55¾ x 22⅜ in. (141.5. x 57 cm)
    Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

  • MANYDJARRI GANAMBARR
    Djambarrpuyŋu Mäna
    1996
    75⅞ x 22¾ in. (193 x 578 cm)
    Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

  • WAITJUŊ MUNUŊGIRRITJ
    Biranybirany
    1965
    60¼ x 24¼ in. (153 x 61.5 cm)
    Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

  • NYAPANYAPA YUNUPIŊU
    Ganyu (Stars)
    2018
    91¾ x 42¾ (233 X 108.5 cm)
    Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Gift of Bérengère Primat, 2019.

  • DJAMBAWA MARAWILI
    Journey to America
    2018
    106¼ x 39⅜ in. (270 x 100 cm)
    Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Gift of Geoffrey Hassall and Virginia Milson, 2019.

  • MUŊURRAWUY YUNUPIŊU
    Ŋalarrwuy
    1961
    32 ½ x 17 ¾ in. (82.5 x 45 cm)
    Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

  • WANDJUK MARIKA
    The Coming of Djaŋ’kawu
    1962
    47½ x 21. In. (120.5 x 53 cm)
    Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

  • MULKUṈ WIRRPANDA
    Retja I
    2020
    79⅞ x 38¼ in. (203 x 97 cm)
    Forthcoming acquisition, The Maḏayin Commission

  • NOŊGIRRŊA MARAWILI
    Baratjala
    2018
    63¾ x 44½ in. (162 x 113 cm)
    Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia