Old Masters: Australia's Great Bark Artists
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Old Masters: Australia's Great Bark Artists

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The National Museum of Australia’s collection of bark paintings is one of Australia’s great cultural treasures. It comprises the work of renowned Aboriginal artists from Arnhem Land, in northern Australia, who belong to one of the world’s oldest continuing art traditions, stretching back more than 50,000 years.


These rare and fragile works stand both materially and symbolically as emblems of Australia. They are literally born of the land, with bark stripped from trees and with ochres and clays extracted from the earth. The paintings speak of a powerful attachment to the land and reveal the extraordinary precision, perception and imagination of the artists who made them. On seeing the work of one of these bark painters – Yirawala – Picasso reputedly exclaimed, ‘This is what I’ve been trying to achieve all my life’.


The paintings displayed here were all made in the last century but incorporate patterns, motifs and stories that have been repeated over millennia.


Many link directly to ancient rock art and the tradition of ceremonial body painting. The shimmering brilliance created by fine crosshatching in some of these works is suggestive of ancestral power and sacred light. Through the stories and meanings they hold, these art works stand as a bridge between the nation’s First Australians and later settler peoples.


The National Museum of Australia and, by extension, the people of Australia are proud to share these treasures of our nation with Taiwan’s visitors.