Arts / Aboriginal Memorial turns 30

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Djon Mundine was the conceptual producer of The Aboriginal Memorial from 1987-88. Photo by Ramingining Artists
THE Aboriginal Memorial stands proud at the entry to the National Gallery of Australia and this year it’s celebrating its 30th anniversary in style.

Conceived by Djon Mundine in collaboration with Ramingining artists of central Arnhem Land, and commissioned by the NGA’s inaugural director James Mollison, the Memorial has been permanently displayed since 1988.

Made of 200 hollow log coffins from central Arnhem Land, the installation imitates the course of the Glyde River, with the poles placed to reflect a map of the artists’ clan lands along the river and its tributaries.

This evening the gallery’s “annual lecture” will take the form of a conversation between Mundine, curator, arts advocate and former manager for 16 years of Bula’bula Arts Centre, and the new-ish NGA director, Nick Mitzevich.

A symposium follows on the weekend, looking at Yolngu culture and the Memorial’s relation to other recent memorials in Australia and the wider world.

This morning, when “CityNews” caught up with the NGA’s senior curator of Indigenous Art, Franchesca Cubillo, she was fresh from picking up guests at the airport and the buzz of excitement was palpable.

Cubillo, Mundine, and NGA director Nick Mitzevich have been in Darwin and Ramingining in the Northern Territory for the past few days and just got back to Canberra yesterday. Documented in film by another staff, their trip gave Mitzevich the opportunity to visit the community and meet surviving artists, including Philip Gudthaykudthay, so that he could get a sense of the country from which the memorial derived.

Flying back with them were two senior Ramingining artists, Roy Burrnyila and Bobby Bununggurr who, Cubillo said, would be talking at the symposium and performing a ceremony just before the annual lecture.

“It is an honour to have them here representing the Ramingining community,“ she said.

“Nick was beside himself with visiting this country and having a chance to go to the Bula’bula Arts Centre and to talk with Philip, just one of the remarkable artists who worked on the Memorial.

“We visited sacred sites and the men were able to talk to Nick about the significance of those sites about the activities of ancestors in that location.”

Cubillo said they visited the location where the film “Ten Canoes” was made and the place where Australian anthropologist, photographer and journalist, Donald Thomson documented the life of Arnhem Land in a series of remarkable photos.

“For all of us it was a real privilege to visit country and to be introduced to the traditional owners,” she said.

NGA Annual Lecture, 6pm, Thursday, October 1. 

Two-day Aboriginal Memorial 30th Anniversary Symposium, James O Fairfax Theatre NGA, October, 12-13. Bookings for both to


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Helen Musa
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