Art

Over the last decade, the Memorial’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait art collection has been developed through a strategic acquisitions program. There are currently more than 250 artworks created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in the National Collection.

The large scale painting Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa [Country and Culture will be protected by spears] was commissioned in 2017, with 19 senior male artists from Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands telling their story of Aboriginal Australians defending Country. This work of art is on display in the Memorial’s foyer, making it one of the first things visitors encounter when they visit the Memorial. 

The National Collection also holds works of art produced by the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander official war artists. Tony Albert (Girramay/Kuku Yalanji) was attached to the Army's Regional Surveillance Force North West Mobile Unit (NORFORCE) in 2012; Badu Island artist Alick Tipoti (Kala Lagaw Ya) was attached to the 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment in 2016. In 2017, Megan Cope (Quandamooka) was appointed the Memorial’s first Aboriginal official war artist to be deployed overseas.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection creates an opportunity for truth-telling, healing, storytelling, and interpretation of the history of military service and experiences of Indigenous Australians, an important part of the Memorial’s mission to commemorate the service and sacrifice of all Australians.

Collection Highlights

Click on the artwork image to learn more

Robert Campbell Jr, The past & present of 200 years, 1986

Recently acquired by the Australian War Memorial is one of two important 'bicentennial' history paintings by Robert Campbell Jr (1944–1993). Sydney is the subject of 'The past & present of 200 years' and the painting's narrative begins with the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 through to the modern land rights movement and the city of Sydney 200 years later.

 

19 senior male artists of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa [Country and Culture will be protected by spears], 2017

In 2017, the Memorial commissioned senior male artists of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands to create an artwork to tell their story of Aboriginal Australians defending Country. Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa [Country and Culture will be protected by spears], is now on display in the Memorial’s Orientation Gallery.

Betty Muffler, Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country), 2017

This painting by senior Pitjantjatjara artist and traditional healer Betty Muffler depicts the good places, that is, places that are healing in her country following the devastation caused by the weapons testing program at Maralinga during the 1950s and 60s. Muffler is a strong kungka (woman) who survived the bombings at Maralinga when many didn't. Muffler's work explores this terrible and sad story in commemoration with scratchy, harsh brush markings; it shows her experiences travelling through the APY Lands, offers healing and commemorates through design her movement in escaping the devastation of the bombs.

Shirley Purdie, Goordbelayinji, 2012

Goordbelayinji is a Gija word that is used to describe any place where many have been killed at one time. In this painting, Purdie speaks about events on her Father's Country: violence amongst neighbouring Aboriginal communities; Aboriginal led killings of pastoralist upon arrival; and importantly, the massacre of Gija people at Mistake Creek in 1915. By depicting such massacres, Purdie, like her forbears Queenie McKenzie and Rover Thomas, has intended to create historical records of events that went unreported but had been passed down through oral tradition.

Kapua Gutchen, Kaubu Miebur Kab [War Plane Dance], 2018

In 2018 the Australian War Memorial commissioned artist and Elder Kapua Gutchen Senior (Meriam Mir) of Erub Erwer Meta (Erub Arts) on Erub (Darnley Island) in the Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait). He was asked to create a suite of drawings depicting Second World War stories unique to Erub and the eastern region of the Torres Strait, including those relating to his own service with C Company, 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment.

In this artwork, Gutchen has explored the legacy of aircraft in the Torres Strait. Fascinated with the arrival of flying war machines, Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion (TSLIB) soldiers composed songs and dances in honour of the allied pilots who flew these planes. Here TSLIB ex-servicemen from Mabiuag (Jervis Island) perform these original dances at a community feasting held more than 70 years ago. Looking out to sea, Moa (Banks Island) and Badu (Mulgrave Island) can be seen on the horizon.

Freddy Ken, Kulata Tjuta, 2015

This painting commemorates Indigenous military service through the story of 'Kulata Tjuta' [many spears]. It is a tribute to the Anangu men who have fought to protect their country presenting a history of Indigenous military service as synonymous with warrior culture.

Kulata Tjuta, 2015

This painting commemorates Indigenous military service through the story of 'Kulata Tjuta' [many spears]. It is a tribute to the Anangu men who have fought to protect their country presenting a history of Indigenous military service as synonymous with warrior culture.

Susan Wanji Wanji, Bombing of Darwin,  2016

Susan Wanji Wanji lives and works on Melville Island which is the largest of the two Tiwi Islands. The experience of the planes and the bombings on the island came as a shock to many Tiwi Islanders and it is an event which still has resonance today through traditional songs and stories. This initial experience is represented in the painting.

Julie Dowling, The Dance, 2000

'This shows the dance where my grandmother and [grand]father got engaged, 1946. He had a fight with his "mates" cause they were racist. Grandmother is Mary Latham. Grandfather is Robert Woodie Dowling. He was in the Air Force. Sergeant Major' Julie Dowling

They daily lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their families are deeply affected by social and political inequalities. Despite these external pressures, love and devotion still flourishes.

Julie Dowling (1969-) is an Aboriginal artist of Badimaya descent. Best known for her portraiture, she works in a social realist style and draws on a diverse range of artistic traditions including European portraiture, Christian iconography, Papunya Tula dotting and Noongar iconography. A particular strength of her work is its ability to reflect on both common and personal indigenous experiences. She has been exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally.

Stella Bowen, Private, Gowrie House, 1945

Despite being one of the Memorial's most iconic Art objects, the subject remained unidentified, even after being displayed as part of the travelling exhibition 'Stella Bowen: art, love and war'. The subject was believed to be Indigenous, but no further information was forthcoming to verify this assumption. In 2014, curatorial research into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island prisoners of war who went through Gowrie House, Eastbourne, in mid-1945 revealed to be Private David Harris (WX1823).

Michael Cook, Majority Rule (Memorial), 2013

One of a series of seven prints by Cook which considers a simple premise: what would Australia be like if the Indigenous population held the majority? What would the nation look like if 97.5 per cent of Australians were Indigenous and only 2.5 per cent were non-indigenous? Based within this hypothetical world, the seven works play out different scenarios in a variety of significant locations around Australia.

Unknown, Governor Davey’s Proclamation to the Aborigines (1816), c.1866

From 1788 until the 1920s, violence between settlers and Aboriginal people occurred across the length and breadth of the country over control of the land and its resources.

Laurel Nannup, Quirriup, 2011

Nannup is a member of the Stolen Generation, and grew up in the bush around Pinjarra until she was taken at 8 years of age to the Wandering Mission. Nannup told her story in an art exhibition in 2012 with Art on the Move called 'A Story to Tell'.

Nannup was invited with 17 other artists, to visually interpret the event of the Pinjarra massacre, or Nyungar life before/after specifically for inclusion in the Pinjarra Massacre Memorial exhibition of 2011. The Pinjarra Massacre, also known as the Battle of Pinjarra, was an attack that occurred at Pinjarra, Western Australia, on a group of up to 80 Noongar people by a detachment of 25 soldiers, police and settlers led by Governor James Stirling in October 1834. It is considered one of the most notorious massacres carried out on Aboriginal people during the Frontier Wars, particularly due to the calculated nature to which it was planned.

 

Jacky Green, Moonlight, 2013

This painting by Jacky Green depicts the wartime story of 'Little Eva', an American B24 Liberator that came down in a storm off the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1943. 

Tony Albert, Be Deadly - NORFORCE, 2012-2013

In 2012 Tony Albert became the Australian War Memorial's first official war artist to be attached to the Army's Regional Surveillance Force North West Mobile Unit (NORFORCE).


'I saw the recruits as everyday superheros' they had this incredible power...they wanted to stand up in their communities and be proud and strong.' [Tony Albert, March 2013]


Within the Indigenous community the word 'deadly' is used to describe something that is good, amazing, the best. In an exuberant tribute to the young recruits he worked alongside the artist has created the ultimate NORFORCE recruitment poster.

Rosie Ware, Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, 2014 - 2015

In 2014 the Australian War Memorial commissioned Torres Strait Islander (TSI) artist, Rosie Ware, to retrospectively interpret the experience of the Second World War (SWW) and its legacy in the TSI. 

"Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion" is a three panelled textile work. The artist's father, Elia Ware (Q85109), served with the Torres Strait Islander Light Battalion and Ware has interwoven images relating to her own family history of military service with more general images of the Torres straits – before, during and after the SWW. These images have been hand carved and block and screen printed onto fabric.

Alec Forrest, Darnku Country, 2006

Topographical landscape of Kaningarra country in Western Australia. The composition marks various geographical sites including waterholes and lakes. The red lines are symbolic of the sand hills, and the green background suggests it is the wet season. Trees and bushes are scattered throughout the painting.

Robert Punnagka Fielding, Nganampa Manta (our Country), 2018

This drawing by Robert Fielding was made in response to the Memorial's 2017 commission with the APY Lands Art Centre Collective and tells the story of Aboriginal Australians defending Country. 

Fielding has appropriated an image of Lance Corporal Charles Tednee Blackman held in the Memorial's collection (see RCDIG0001094). Of this work, Fielding stated: "Aboriginal people have been defending and caring for manta (earth) forever and Charles Blackman like many who have come after him will do so at any cost. The battle Blackman was apart [sic] of is the same battle today's Aboriginal people fight, a battle to defend and care for our manta, Australia."

 

Andy Snelgar, Miru [Warrior kit 1 Woomera], 2016

A mirru's main use is as a spear thrower but it could also be used as a dish and a fire lighter. It is a good multipurpose tool with a stone knife on one end which can be used to cut animals, make string, cut wood and to make spears and a hook on the other end. The designs on this Mirru map country and feature images relating to the crow moiety.

 

Hayley Millar-Baker, 'Untitled (The theft of the White men's sheep), 2018.

This artwork is part of Hayley Millar-Baker's 'A Series of Unwarranted Events' which relates to the frontier violence faced by Millar-Baker's ancestors, the Gunditjmara people, in the 19th century. These events include the destruction of the ancestral lands, and murders of her ancestors, and the forced indoctrination to Christianity.

Hayley Millar-Baker, Untitled (The best means, of caring for, and dealing with them in the future), 2018.

This artwork is part of Hayley Millar-Baker's 'A Series of Unwarranted Events' which relates to the frontier violence faced by Millar-Baker's ancestors, the Gunditjmara people, in the 19th century. These events include the destruction of the ancestral lands, and murders of her ancestors, and the forced indoctrination to Christianity.

Hayley Millar-Baker, Untitled (So he mixed arsenic with half the flour and a raging thirst was created), 2018.

This artwork is part of Hayley Millar-Baker's 'A Series of Unwarranted Events' which relates to the frontier violence faced by Millar-Baker's ancestors, the Gunditjmara people, in the 19th century. These events include the destruction of the ancestral lands, and murders of her ancestors, and the forced indoctrination to Christianity.

Hayley Millar-Baker, Untitled (The circumstances are that a whale had come on shore), 2018.

This artwork is part of Hayley Millar-Baker's 'A Series of Unwarranted Events' which relates to the frontier violence faced by Millar-Baker's ancestors, the Gunditjmara people, in the 19th century. These events include the destruction of the ancestral lands, and murders of her ancestors, and the forced indoctrination to Christianity.

'Maralinga Bomb' travels to the U.S

The Australian War Memorial Loan Program is excited to be able to send the stunning painting, Maralinga Bomb by Karrika Belle Davidson, to the United States of America for the travelling exhibition Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology.

The exhibition, which will first feature at Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe New Mexico, is a co-curated exhibition between iBiennale Director Dr. Kóan Jeff Baysa; Nuuk Art Museum Director Nivi Christensen (Inuit); Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art Chief curator and Vice Director Satomi Igarashi; Art Gallery of New South Wales Assistant Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Erin Vink (Ngiyampaa), independent curator Tania Willard (Secwepemc Nation), and MoCNA Chief Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man.

As described on the exhibition website, Exposure “documents international Indigenous artists’ responses to the impacts of nuclear testing, nuclear accidents, and uranium mining on Native peoples and the environment. The traveling exhibition and catalog give artists a voice to address the long-term effects of these man-made disasters on Indigenous communities in the United States and around the world. Indigenous artists from Australia, Canada, Greenland, Japan, Pacific Islands, and the United States utilize local and tribal knowledge, as well as Indigenous and contemporary art forms as visual strategies for their thought-provoking artworks.”

In October 1956, Karrika Belle Davidson experienced firsthand the consequences of the nuclear testing at Maralinga, a desert region of South Australia. She, among many others, became very unwell and was treated at the Warburton mission. Maralinga Bomb tells of the experiences of Karrika as the bombing occurred.

To learn more about Maralinga Bomb by Karrika Belle Davidson here.

Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology: Fri, August 20, 2021–Sun, January 23, 2022 (https://iaia.edu/).

Karrika Belle Davidson, Maralinga Bomb, 2016, 

Watch some short films with official war artists about their work
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