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Cover for Old Masters

Old Masters

Australia's Great Bark Artists

Wally Caruana, Alisa Duff, Howard Morphy, Luke Taylor


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Bark painting, as practiced by Aboriginal artists of Arnhem Land for millennia, is one of the great traditions of world art, yet it was only recognized as such late in the 20th century. Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists highlights the work of 40 master painters who have carried one of the oldest continuing traditions of art into the modern era. It features the paintings of Narritjin Maymuru, Yirawala, Mawalan Marika, David Malangi, and their contemporaries. These men of high ritual standing were not only artists, but also ceremonial and clan leaders, philosophers, advocates for land rights and human rights, ambassadors, and politicians, who recognized the power of art as the most eloquent means to build bridges between Aboriginal and European society. The book includes essays by renowned scholars of Aboriginal art, biographies and portraits of the artists, and 122 full-color plates of the paintings, made between 1948 and 1988, from the National Museum of Australia’s rich and extensive collection. This profile of the Museum’s unique collection will serve as lasting documentation of these rare and fragile works that have never before been exhibited or published as a collection.

National Museum of Australia Press, 9781921953163, 240pp.

Publication Date: October 1, 2014

About the Author

Wally Caruana is an independent curator, author, and consultant specializing in Indigenous Australian art. For nearly 20 years he was the senior curator of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collections at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. He was the consultant curator for the Old Masters: Australia's Great Bark Artists exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. Alisa Duff has worked for more than 20 years in the cultural sector and her current role is lead curator of Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists at the National Museum of Australia. Howard Morphy is the director of the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University, Canberra, and has published widely in the areas of anthropology, art, and religion. Luke Taylor is an anthropologist who has worked with bark painters in western Arnhem Land for more than 30 years. He currently maintains an adjunct position with the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University, Canberra.