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Indigenous Australian Art

Walangkura Napanangka

Walangkura Napanangka | Pintupi people | Australia b.c.1946 | Untitled (Tjintjintjin) 2006 | Synthetic polymer paint on Belgian linen | 183 x 244cm | Purchased 2008. The Queensland Government's Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery


Yumpululu Tjungarrayi, Australia b.c.1925 / Yinma - A gathering of people for ceremonial purposes 1973 / Synthetic polymer paint on composition board / Purchased 1995 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery's Centenary 1895-1995 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

The Indigenous Australian art works at the Queensland Art Gallery presents diverse artistic expressions from one of the world's oldest continuing societies. These works are drawn from all regions of the country, with Queensland being a key focus. The Gallery's holdings of Indigenous Australian art works has grown remarkably in recent years, with a strong focus on contemporary art.

Education resource for schools

The QAGOMA Collection Education Resource features selected historical and contemporary artworks by Indigenous Australian artists to assist teachers in planning a self-guided visit. Suitable for primary and secondary levels.

To locate featured works, refine your search by selecting 'Indigenous Australian' in the 'Category' drop down menu.

Early Indigenous Australian Art

At the time of European arrival, Australia was home to an array of visual traditions supported and maintained by over 250 different Indigenous peoples. Queensland's varied geography fostered a great diversity of cultures and cultural material. From early contact, these objects and their designs were considered to possess great power and beauty, although their display remained largely in the realm of the anthropology museums for many decades. In recent years, Australian art institutions have begun revaluating these objects and presenting them alongside other forms of art produced in Australia at the same time.

The Gallery is committed to developing its holdings of early Indigenous Australian art and objects in order to better represent the many strong visual traditions of Indigenous Australia, particularly those from Queensland, and to present the art histories of Queensland's Indigenous communities in all their rich variety.

Indigenous Australian Art to the mid-1970s

The earliest painting in the Indigenous Australian art collection is Corroboree by William Barak, the Wurundjeri artist and social activist from Victoria, which dates from the 1880s. The Gallery's first acquisition of an Indigenous Australian artist's work, in 1947, was the watercolour Western MacDonnellsc.1945 by Western Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira. East Cape York artist Joe Rootsey is well-represented with his unique watercolours of north Queensland and south-east Queensland from the 1950s and 1960s, and a selection of 1960s bark paintings from Hopevale enriches holdings from this period.

The Gallery also holds a significant group of bark paintings, including works from the 1948 American Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land; a truly monumental collaborative bark painting,Yalangbara c.1960by eight senior ceremonial leaders and artists from north-east Arnhem Land; and a strong group from Wadeye (Port Keats) in remote Northern Territory, produced in the 1950s and 1960s, including Nym Banduk's significant Ngakumarl painting (Murrinhpatha totemic landscape)c.1959-60.

Contemporary Indigenous Australian art

Cape York and Far North Queensland

Following the 2003 exhibition 'Story Place: Indigenous Art of Cape York and the Rainforest', the Gallery acquired a substantial collection of works from these northern regions of the state. A significant group of sculptures from Aurukun, ceramics by senior artist Thanakupi, ceramics and fibre works from Yarrabah, near Cairns, Girringun (Cardwell and Murray Upper), Mossman and Lockhart River, and an imposing group of rainforest shields and swords form a vital aspect of the Gallery's contemporary Indigenous Australian art collection. The Gallery also holds significant paintings by Cape York and North Queensland artists including Rosella Namok, Samantha Hobson, Lisa Michl, Roy McIvor, Doris Platt, Fiona Omeenyo and the late Arthur Pambegan Jnr.

Contemporary urban-based Indigenous art

Queensland urban-based Indigenous artists continue to lead contemporary art practice in Australia and are also increasingly widely represented overseas. Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Gordon Hookey, Fiona Foley, Archie Moore, Judy Watson, Tony Albert and the late Vincent Serico offer distinctive political and social perspectives in their works. Other works by contemporary urban-based Indigenous artists include photography, video and film by Brook Andrew, Christian Thompson, and Genevieve Grieves, with major photographic suites by Destiny Deacon, Michael Riley and Ricky Maynard.

Torres Strait Islander art

Sculptures originally used in performance and printmaking are the major contemporary Torres Strait Islander art forms, and the Gallery holds one of the leading collections in the world of these contemporary expressions, including a significant group of innovative dance sculptures by senior artist Ken Thaiday. Large-scale prints by Dennis Nona were included in 'The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art' in 2006 and his brother George Nona was represented by a major suite of 13 of feathered dhoeri (headdresses) in the Gallery's 2008 exhibition 'Contemporary Australia: Optimism'.

'Land, Sea and Sky: Contemporary Art of the Torres Strait Islands', the Gallery's landmark 2011 exhibition, was the largest and most important exhibition of contemporary Torres Strait Islander art to date. A number of important works were commissioned and acquired, including a group of printed silk textiles by Rosie Barkus, watercolours by Segar Passi, a reverential printed floating ceiling by Brian Robinson, a group of 22 charcoal drawings by the Erub Erwer Meta artists, and large groups of ghost net weavings and zamiyakal (dance machines) by Yessie Mosby, Billy Kris and Patrick Thaiday, making the Gallery's Torres Strait Islander art collection the most substantial of its kind anywhere.

Desert painting

The Gallery's Central, Western and Eastern desert collection encompasses the whole period of the production of portable art in that region, enabling the Gallery to tell all the chapters of the desert painting story. A group of early Papunya boards — including paintings by Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa, Yumpululu Tjungarrayi, Shorty Lungkarda Tjungarray and Johnny Warrangkula Tjupurrula— charts this major art movement from its inception, while large-scale masterpieces from the 1980s by senior artists such as Uta Uta Tjangala demonstrate the political momentum of the Pintupi push to establish homelands in their own country at Kintore and Kiwirrkurra. Major recent paintings by celebrated artists George Tjungurrayi, Walangkura Napanangka and the late Doreen Reid Nakamarra illustrate the continued relevance, importance and innovation in art from this area.

Works by artists from Utopia, including eminent artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Minnie Pwerle and Angelina Ngal, provide a perspective from the eastern side of the centre, while works by artists from the Anangu painting centres, especially the magnificent group of seven collaborative paintings by women artists from Amata and others from the Pilbara region in Western Australia, enrich this story and trace the continuance of this indefatigable contemporary art movement


Spanning from the late 1930s to the present day, the Hermannsburg School of watercolor landscape painting is among the longest continuing Indigenous Australian art movements, as well as one of the most important. A painting by Albert Namatjira was the Gallery's first acquisition of an Indigenous artist's work. An important gift in 1979 of a further 30 Hermannsburg watercolour paintings developed a strong collection of works from this group

More recently the Gallery has acquired acrylic paintings and pottery from the Hermannsburg Potters and watercolour landscapes by the descendants of Namatjira and other early Hermannsburg school artists, which demonstrate the significance of the legacy of this movement in central Australia. This collection was showcased in the Gallery's regional touring exhibition 'Namatjira to Now' in 2009, which included vibrant contemporary ceramics and acrylic paintings by Hermannsburg women, as well as contemporary watercolours.

Arnhem Land and northern Australia

A diverse range of art from northern Australia includes a collection of monumental hollow log burial poles, a major group of Banumbirr (Morning Star poles) and many ornamental feathered objects from Galiwinku. Paintings by leading artists from the Yirrkala community in the Buwayak (invisibility) style are a focus, including a group of bark paintings and larrakidj memorial poles by the culturally and politically important figure Djambawa Marrawili, who was included in 'The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art' in 2006. Works by Gunybi Ganambarr, an important younger generation artist to emerge from the region, signal exciting new developments in Arnhem Land art. There are also paintings and fibre work from senior female artists from Peppimenarti and a strong group of works by leading Tiwi artists, including paintings, prints, pukamani poles (tutini) and tunga (bark baskets).

Key paintings by important Kimberley artists Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Mabel Juli, George Wallaby and Hector Jandany, as well as an important Wandjina painting by senior artist Lily Karadada, underpin the Kimberley collection. A full set of balmarra, monumental coloured wool performance sculptures by Alan Griffiths, dance frames by Roy Wiggan, riji (pearl shell pendants) by Aubrey Tigan, and paintings by Fitzroy Crossing artists Butcher Cherel, Dolly Snell and the final works by the late Wakartu Cory Surprise, make the Kimberley and north-western representation a diverse and exciting aspect of the Collection.


Indigenous prints

The Gallery holds two prints by the first acknowledged Aboriginal artist engaging with the medium, Kevin Gilbert's 'Totality' 1965 and 'In my Father's studio' 1965. The Tiwi Island community of Nguiu has also had a long tradition of engaging with printmaking and works from the 1980s by Bede Tugatulum and later works by Kitty Kantila, Maryanne Mungatopi, Pedro Wonaramirri and Timothy Cook establish this region as important within the medium. Communities from across Arnhem Land have had a similar engagement with the medium and suites of prints by Banduk Marika, as well as recent works by artists from Maningrida, highlight this history. Artists from urban centres are leading practitioners in the genre and the Gallery holds works by Danie Mellor, and major suites of works by Sally Morgan, Utopia artists, Fiona Foley, Judy Watson and Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula. Prints by Torres Strait Islander artists, including Billy Missi, Alick Tipoti and Dennis Nona, are an important component of the Gallery's Indigenous print holdings.

Aboriginal fibre art
Since 2003, the Gallery has built on earlier holdings of silk batik textiles from various central Australian art centres by acquiringsome 300 Aboriginal fibre works, as a special focus in the Collection. Groups of works by leading fibre artists Yvonne Koolmatrie, Shirley Macnamara, Lena Yarinkura and Judy Baypungala give prominence to these artists in a genre that has only recently gained due recognition. These were showcased in the 2009 exhibition 'Floating Life: Contemporary Aboriginal Fibre Art'. As well as woven pieces made from natural and synthetic materials, objects, paintings and prints that reference fibre are also included. Arnhem Land artists have provided many beautiful works; however, urban-based artists breaking new ground, such as Lorraine Connelly-Northey and Jonathan Jones, have extended the Collection in exciting directions.

The images on this web page are indicative of works that are part of the Collection. Visitors are advised to contact the Gallery in advance of a visit to find out if a particular work is on display. For exhibition information on Collection works on display, please visit Current Collection Displays

Selected Collection Highlights

William Barak Corroboree 1880s

Albert Namatjira The Finke River Gorge at entrance to Glen Helen c.1945-53

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri Bush tucker story 1972

Sunfly Tjampitjin Poyarri 1988

Judy Watson sacred ground beating heart 1989

John Mawurndjul Mardayin and Wongkurr (sacred objects and dilly bags) 1994

Thanakupi Pot: (Orinde the tortoise) c.1995

Fiona Foley Black velvet 1996

Alick Tipoti Kobupa thoerapiese 1999

Destiny Deacon Forced into images (portfolio) 2001

Joe Ngallametta Thap yongk (Law poles) 2002-03

Michael Boiyool Anning Bama (The people) 2003

Lilly Kelly Napangardi Sandhills, Kintore area 2003

Mabel Juli Marranyji and Dinal 2004

Lena Yarinkura Yawkyawk 2004

Richard Bell Bell's Theorem (Trikky Dikky and friends) 2005

Pedro Wonaeamirri Pwoja (Pukumani body paint design) 2005

Vernon Ah Kee neither pride nor courage 2006

Walangkura Napanangka Untitled (Tjintjintjin) 2006

Tony Albert Sorry 2008

Brook Andrew The Island V 2008

Sally Gabori Dibirdibi Country 2008

Archie Moore Sacred sights (the first intervention) 2008

George Nona Ceremonial Dhoeri 2008

Various Artists Bagu (Firestick figure) and Jiman (Firestick) 2009

Various Artists Makarrki - King Alfred's Country 2008

Various Artists Mukurtu 2010

Segar Passi Koob 2011