One of the most exciting world exhibits of indigenous art is coming to The National Gallery of Victoria later this year as it will launch TIWI – on show from November 13 to March 8, 2021 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia.

The Tiwi, the original inhabitants of Melville and Bathurst Islands, are known for their extraordinary art and cultural practices, distinct from those of mainland Aboriginal people. Located 80 km north of Darwin, the Tiwi Islands are unique, in part due to their geographical position, but also language, customary ceremonies, material culture, and kinship system, all of which have a profound influence on Tiwi art.

In terms of 2D and sculptural art, the great significance and strength in story telling by Tiwi artists’ is matched, if not exceeded by their collective skills and dramatic visual style. Their works hold at times a mysterious and beautiful relevance that can make each individual piece ultimately so treasured and celebrated. Given its power and beauty, we know how important and exciting this forthcoming exhibition will be for visitors and those celebrating indigenous culture.

Harold Porkilari, Tiwi, c. 1963–2003, Purrukuparli ngirramini, 1992
Earth pigments on Stringybark, 102.0 x 75.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Purchased from Admission Funds, 1992
© Harold Porkilari / Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

‘Retaining strong creative traditions, the Tiwi Islands remain a vital place for exclusive artistic practices that are deeply rooted in traditional storytelling and feature the hallmarks of good design known as jilamara,’ said Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria.

‘The NGV is delighted to have the opportunity to exhibit so many works from the NGV Collection alongside those from public and private lenders, including historical and contemporary works by artists from the Tiwi Islands’ most significant cultural institutions: Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association, Munupi Arts & Crafts Association, Tiwi Design and Ngaruwanajirri,” said Ellwood AM.

TIWI, showcases works from 1911 to the present day, and will consist of almost 300 works by over 70 artists. The exhibition features 152 works rigorously selected from the NGV Collection and 129 loans of rare historical objects and contemporary paintings from Australian lenders. TIWI marks the first time the majority of the NGV’s comprehensive Tiwi collection is displayed, and coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Tiwi Design art centre which began as a partnership between key artists Bede Tungutalum and Giovanni Tipungwuti.

TIWI avoids a linear chronology, instead divided into spaces that reveal different aspects of Tiwi art and culture. The two principal cultural events for the Tiwi are the pukumani (mourning) and kulama (coming of age) ceremonies. Each Tiwi person is encouraged to participate in customary visual and performative art as part of these ceremonies – including the creation of tutini (poles), jilamara (body painting), kawakawayi (song) and yoyi (dance). Tiwi creativity is expressed through random combinations of turtiyanginari (colour), patterns of marlipinyini (lines), kurluwukari (circles) and pwanga (dots).

Pukumani tutini, 2002–2009 (installation view)
Earth pigments on Ironwood (Erythrophleum chlorostachys), dimensions variable
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne © The artists / Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

A major highlight of TIWI will be a display featuring the NGV’s extensive collection of pukumani tutini (poles), which will be installed to suggest a forest setting. Occupying a space devoted to the theme of bereavement, these monumental ironwood sculptures – painted with Tiwi ochres – are customarily created for pukumani (mourning) ceremonies. The selection features tutini created between 1912 and 2019 and will include the works of master carvers Declan Apuatimi, Mani Luki, Tommy Mungatopi, Paddy Freddy Puruntatameri, Pedro Wonaeamirri, Leon Puruntatameri, Pius Tipungwuti and Mario Walarmerpui.

Timothy Cook, Tiwi born 1958, Kulama 2012, Earth pigments on canvas, 150.0 x 220.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Robert Martin Bequest, 2019
© Timothy Cook / Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

TIWI will also feature ochre paintings on bark, canvas and paper – now recognised as important forms of Tiwi contemporary art – created by senior artists including Jean Baptiste Apuatimi, Nancy Henry and Kutuwulumi Kitty Kantilla, plus rising talents such as Johnathon World Peace Bush. The exhibition also includes exquisite, layered canvases painted with a pwoja (comb) by young Tiwi leader Pedro Wonaeamirri and elder Cornelia Tipuamantumirri. Their subtle abstract paintings will be exhibited alongside the bold canvases of contemporary artist Timothy Cook, who became the first Tiwi artist to win a National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2012.

Additional highlights of TIWI will include a display of historical and contemporary tunga (bark baskets), which are unique to the Tiwi; a significant loan from the South Australian Museum of twelve bark paintings and five tunga, commissioned by Australian anthropologist Charles P. Mountford in 1954; and the world premiere of Yoyi (Dance) 2020, a moving image work involving 25 Tiwi participants from Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association. These works will be displayed alongside exhibition spaces devoted to Tiwi printmaking, batik textiles and ceramics.

Cardo Kerinauia Tiyantingalayang Tiwi, 1892–1964, Purrukuparli and Bima, 1959, Earth pigments on Ironwood
71.0 x 17.0 x 15.0 cm & 71.3 x 17.0 x 15.0 cm
Collection of Malcolm Davidson, Melbourne, © Cardo Kerinauia Tiyantingalayang Cyril

A richly illustrated publication, providing an in-depth study of Tiwi art and culture, will be produced to accompany the exhibition. Edited by the exhibition’s curator Judith Ryan AM, the publication features major essays by artists Pedro Wonaeamirri and Jonathan Jones, plus contributions by leading curators and managers of Tiwi art centres.

TIWI The Exhibition
13 November 2020 to 8 March 2021 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia.
Further information is available via the NGV website.<

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