Madayin is the first major survey of Aboriginal bark paintings ever staged outside of Australia. It presents seven decades of one of Australia’s most unique contributions to global contemporary art.
For millennia, Yolngu 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. Yolngu describe them as madayin: a term that encompasses both the sacred and the beautiful. With the arrival of Europeans in the mid-twentieth century, Yolngu 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-class holdings of Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, Madayin will survey seven decades of artistic production at Yirrkala, from 1948 to the present, including 30 new works commissioned especially for the exhibition through the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Center at Yirrkala. The curatorial team includes both Yolngu 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.