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NGV showcases Indigenous climate knowledge

NGV showcases Indigenous climate knowledge


In October 2020, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) will present Big Weather, an exhibition exploring Australia’s unique climate through the works of Indigenous artists and designers. 

Big Weather, showcased at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia,  will feature works from over 75 artists across the spectrum of media, encompassing painting, photography, film, weaving and sculpture. 

Nici Cumpston OAM Flooded Gum, Katarapko Creek, Murray River National Park 2007 watercolour and pencil on inkjet print on canvas 74.5 x 202.5 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008 © Nici Cumpston OAM

Works by artists from diverse Indigenous communities present unique interpretations of Ancestral spirit beings who summon the rain, hail, and seasonal storms, that feed into our rivers, revive the landscape and nourish wildlife. 

The exhibition emphasises Indigenous cultural knowledge as vital to understanding our natural environment. 

Big Weather encourages visitors to consider the importance of Indigenous knowledge of weather systems to understand the dynamic nature of the Australian landscape.” said Tony Ellwood AM, director, National Gallery Victoria. 

“This exhibition presents new commissions and NGV Collection works by both historical and contemporary artists, including Albert Namatjira, Emily Kam Kngwarray, Julie Gough, Laurie Nona, Michael Riley, and Nonggirrnga Marawili” said Ellwood.

Big Weather addresses climate change in works exploring extreme weather including flooding, bushfires, cyclones, and storms and how these events are changing our landscape.

Treahna Hamm Emu 2005, fibre, emu feathers, 91.5 × 47.0 × 7.0 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2005 © Courtesy of the artist.

An exhibition highlight is a pair of newly commissioned possum skin cloaks created by Yorta Yorta artist Treahna Hamm displaying designs reflecting cultural fire stories and contemporary climate change research. 

Knowledge of these weather systems and ancestral stories about Country is shared through oral traditions and customary ceremonies passed down across generations.

The significance of transferring cultural knowledge over generations is illustrated by paintings by Western Arrernte watercolourists including legendary artist Albert Namatjira presented alongside contemporary artists who continue the watercolour tradition including Noreen Hudson and Seth Namatjira, grandson of Albert Namatjira. 

Albert Namatjira MacDonnell Ranges at Heavitree Gap early 1950s watercolour, 34.5 x 52.0 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Presented by Esso Australia Pty Ltd, 2018 © Namatjira Legacy Trust/Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

The integral role of animals in the overall balance and wellbeing of the environment is portrayed in representational works in diverse media, including woven fish traps from across Australia which reflect how animals are universally respected not only as practical sources of food but for their spiritual existence and as indicators of changing weather patterns.

Michael Riley, Untitled 2000 from the cloud (cow) series, inkjet print on banner paper 110.0 x 155.0 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne © Michael Riley Foundation, courtesy The Commercial, Sydney, licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

Michael Riley’s Untitled from the iconic photographic series cloud, 2000 depicting a levitating cow, speaks directly to Australia’s history of settlement and the sadness and confusion that introduced animal species caused Indigenous communities, interrupting their ancient relationship with their Country.

Big Weather will be on display from 23 October 2020 – 2021 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square, Flinders St & Russell St, Melbourne, Australia. More information is available here.  

Following the latest COVID-19 public health direction from the Victorian Government, the NGV is currently temporarily closed to the public.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NGV launched a live in-studio series with Australian artists and designers, giving viewers an insight into their life and practice while in isolation.

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