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Collections

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art

Introduction

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have existed on the continent of Australia for tens of thousands of years. Their art and traditions are among the oldest and richest in human history.

The designs, patterns and stories were taught to Indigenous Australians by the Ancestors and are reinforced and replicated through ritual, dance, song, body painting, rock engravings and paintings, and on domestic and ritual objects. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is as alive today as it was thousands of years ago. As in the ancient past, the art is inseparable from everyday life.

The art of contemporary Indigenous Australians takes many forms. Despite significant change and diversity, the art retains an underlying unity of inspiration—the land and the peoples’ relationships with it. It is simultaneously connected to the past and engaged with the present, engaging with the world through actions which are lively, positive, political, social and creative.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection at the National Gallery of Australia comprises over 7500 works and is the largest in the world. These new gallery spaces allow much more of the collection to be seen with each one specifically designed for a different geographic region or aspect of Indigenous art and, where possible, paintings and sculptures are illuminated overhead by natural daylight, akin to the light in which the works were created.

This dedicated display of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art highlights the diversity, richness and excellence of the collection.

New acquisitions

General links

Special focus sites

Publications

  • Michael Riley: sights unseen 2006
  • Aboriginal art in modern worlds 2000
  • Keeping culture: Aboriginal art to keeping places and cultural centres, 2000
  • The painters of the Wagilag sisters story, 1937-1997 Wally Caruana and Nigel Lendon, editors, 1997
  • The eye of the storm : eight contemporary indigenous Australian artists, 1996

Related exhibition sites

Indigenous arts charter

In February 2010, the National Gallery of Australia has adopted the Indigenous Australian Art Charter of Principles for Publicly Funded Collecting Institutions (Charter) 2009.

In accepting the Charter’s principles for the acquiring, commissioning and de-accessioning of Indigenous works or art, the National Gallery of Australia will develop and refine existing policies and procedures towards best practice. 

Progress on the Charter will be documented in the Gallery’s Annual Report

Image above:
Ramingining Artists 
The Aboriginal Memorial 1987–88
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased with the assistance of funds from National Gallery admission charges and commissioned in 1987

  1. The Aboriginal Memorial

  2. 19th Century Objects

  3. Early Western Desert Paintings 1971-1974

  4. Desert Painting from 1975

  5. Hermannsburg School

  6. The Kimberley

  7. Textiles

  8. Early Bark Paintings and Sculpture - pre 1980

  9. Prints & Drawings

  10. Urban

  11. Photo media

  12. Bark Paintings - post 1980, North Queensland and Tiwi Islands

  13. Torres Strait Islands