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Kluge-Ruhe Readies for Largest-Ever Aboriginal Art Exhibition Outside Australia

Published May 3, 2017 in News

By: Caroline Newman | University Communications

One artist-in-residence at the University of Virginia’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection speculated that even Australian students do not often have as much access to Australian Aboriginal art and artists as UVA students do.

“Hearing that from an indigenous artist, Janet Fieldhouse, was incredible,” said Henry Skerritt, appointed curator at the museum last year.

The Kluge-Ruhe is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to the exhibition and study of Aboriginal art, providing UVA students unique access to what would otherwise be a faraway community. It was established in 1997 when the late businessman John W. Kluge entrusted UVA with his collection of Aboriginal art, including the collection and archives of University of Kansas professor Edward L. Ruhe, who helped bring Aboriginal art to America.

Twenty years later, two Yolgnu artists, Wukun Wanambi and Yinimala Gumana, are in Charlottesville planning the largest touring exhibition that the Kluge-Ruhe has ever launched, surveying more than 70 years of bark paintings from hundreds of artists in Yirrkala. The exhibition title, “Madayin,” refers to the Yolngu term for the designs, meaning both sacred and beautiful.

Wukun Wanambi, left, and Yinimala Gumana are visiting the Kluge-Ruhe to officially kickoff planning for the exhibition. (Photos by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“I am here to discover the Madayin of my ancestors so that I know it is here, safe,” Wanambi said. “It is for us, the Yolngu, to understand that it is here in another world. The exhibition will be held here in America to show the Madayin, to show the strength of our art on bark, from the past to the present, and as it continues, passed on from generation to generation.”

The artists’ visit marks the kickoff of 2½ years of careful planning for the exhibition, slated to begin in 2020. In the interim, artists, curators and researchers from Virginia to Australia will be researching and selecting artworks, planning workshops and creating supplemental educational materials, including articles and films.

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