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 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, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and the National Gallery of Australia, Maḏayin encompasses eight decades of artistic production at Yirrkala, from 1935 to the present, including 33 new works commissioned especially for the exhibition through the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Art Centre at Yirrkala.

Led by Yolŋu curators and knowledge holders and touring the USA from 2022-2025, Maḏayin offers 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-Larrŋgay Mulka Art Centre 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.

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