having-been-there by Nici Cumpston


Nici Cumpston, Leopard Tree II, 2011.
January 17 – May 18, 2014

In the spring of 2014 the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of U.Va. is exhibiting the work of Indigenous Australian Nici Cumpston, an artist and curator from Adelaide, of Barkindji, Afghan, Irish and English heritage.

having-been-there is a series of images created by Cumpston to document the evidence of Aboriginal occupation in Australia before European settlement. Tree engravings, ring trees, and remnants of stone tools abound in Barkindji land. These act as subtle signifiers of the ancestors that once lived in and created the country, and of food and water sources that ensured survival. They also serve as undeniable proof of Aboriginal people “having been there,” before and amidst the colonial assertion of terra nullius, the idea that Australia was a “land without people.” Additionally they are records of the Murray-Darling Basin river system’s natural beauty, as well as its gradual destruction from pollution, salination, and re-routing.

Sponsored by

Australia Council for the Arts

Heart of the Desert: Aboriginal Art from Papunya, Yuendumu and Balgo


Paddy Jupurrula Nelson, Karrku, 1997, acrylic on canvas.

Through May 4, 2014

This exhibition contains twenty works from the permanent collection from the central desert communities of Papunya, Yuendumu and Balgo. Traditional art from this region was painted on the body or drawn in the sand. Such ephemeral images have inspired more permanent contemporary art forms, specifically acrylic paintings on board and canvas. Beginning in 1971 at a government settlement called Papunya, Aboriginal men produced paintings on masonite, wood and eventually canvas. This activity grew into a major art movement that radiated out to other communities such as Yuendumu and Balgo. Men and women artists in each place distinguished their own local style of painting by varying elements like the palette of colors and quality of dots. The iconography used in desert painting represents features of the landscape, ancestral beings and their activities in the creation era known as the Dreaming (Tjukurrpa/Jukurrpa). Through concentric circles, wavy lines, and animal tracks, Aboriginal artists express a traditional body of knowledge and relationship to land that has persisted for thousands of years.

Kluge-Ruhe on Grounds

On view in the lobby of the Fralin Museum of Art are acrylic paintings by Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Timmy Payungka Tjapangati. A selection of seventeen objects, including sculpture, bark paintings and musical instruments are on display in the Fralin’s Object Study Gallery on the second floor.

A textual artworks by Aboriginal artist Vernon Ah Kee is installed on U.Va. Grounds at Brooks Hall Commons.