Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists is a touring exhibition developed by the National Museum of Australia which reproduces a selection of artworks and exhibition text. It celebrates the genius of Aboriginal master bark painters from subtropical Arnhem Land at the top of Australia in Northern Territory. The works have been selected from over 2,000 artworks painted on eucalyptus bark between 1948 and 1988 and now housed at the National Museum.
For many people “Old Masters” might suggest Dutch or Italian oil paintings from a few centuries ago but the title (first applied by The Times of London in 1948) is fully justified in this case – the aboriginal artistic mastery is there for all to see while the technique dates back to almost half the oldest culture in the world outside the African cradle of humanity (35 of the 75 millennia, when the earliest human remains in Argentina go back some 10,000 years). And yet one of the great traditions of world art was unknown to the rest of the planet until some decades ago.
Old Masters explores some of the major themes of bark painting, from the ancestral realm to expressions of identity and reflections on contemporary life. The themes reflect aboriginal history, culture, philosophy and even kangaroo anatomy – the paintings both speak for themselves and are fully explained. The colour scheme for these bark paintings is red, yellow, black and white (the former two colours from ochre, the latter two charcoal and clay respectively). Although the aborigines also painted on rock, this exhibition is dedicated exclusively to bark.
Opening the exhibition on Wednesday night together with City authorities, Australian Ambassador Noel Campbell expressed pride in presenting an aspect of the world’s biggest island other than kangaroos and koalas or being the world’s 13th largest economy (and thus obviously a G20 member) with a quarter-century of consecutive growth.
The exhibition will run until April 20 at the Commune 14 (Palermo) municipal centre (Coronel Diaz 2120), located right next to the Alto Palermo shopping centre.