WELCOME TO ISSUE 292
It was ten years ago, in May 2006, that John Mawurndjul made the cover of Time. I was then arts editor of the magazine’s South Pacific edition, and Australia’s master bark painter was one of eight artists selected for the Australian Indigenous Art Commission at the Museé du quai Branly in Paris. Posed before the Eiffel Tower, sunglasses perched on his head, Mawurndjul radiated a relaxed and unmistakable star persona.
Still does. At Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) last month, when he won the Telstra Bark Painting Award at the 33rd National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA), the senior Kuninjku artist from Central Arnhem Land was a natural magnet for journalists – myself included. ‘It’s a living water, an underground water,’ he told me, referring to the sacred presence within his winning work Dilebang (2016) – rendered in his signature rarrk crosshatching which, curator Hetti Perkins has noted, ‘infers the corporeality of the omnipresent Ancestral Being, Ngalyod’.
Dilebang, which features along with the artist on the front cover of this special Northern Territory focus edition, is Mawurndjul’s first completed painting in nearly five years. As MAGNT’s Curator of Aboriginal Art and Material Culture Luke Scholes writes in his article about the 2016 NATSIAA exhibition: ‘There is an overwhelming sense of hope that this painting and its recognition by the judges will signal the artist’s prolonged return to the broader Australian visual arts landscape.’
As Art Monthly went to press in early August, there was also great hope – and growing anxiety – concerning the future of Sydney’s art schools. In late July, the University of Sydney terminated its planned art-school merger with University of New South Wales Art & Design, coming only weeks after the resignation of Michael Snelling as director and chief executive officer of the National Art School, fuelling concerns about the future independence of these hallowed institutions within the broader arts landscape. We hope to report on further developments in October’s New South Wales focus edition.