Recent News at Kluge-Ruhe

Artists Reconnect with Their Community's Artwork at Kluge-Ruhe • Wednesday September 13, 2017


Two Indigenous artists from Australia’s remote north will travel nearly 10,000 miles in September to reconnect with artworks in the Kluge-Ruhe Collection that were collected from their community in the 1960s. Raymond Bulumbula and Joyce Naliyabu will be the inaugural visiting fellows of UVA’s Mellon Indigenous Arts Program.

The Visiting Fellows Program brings international Indigenous leaders to Charlottesville with the aim of integrating new perspectives into the University’s classrooms and museums. Bulumbula and Naliyabu (Wobulkarra/Yolngu) are both senior artists and knowledge holders in their community of Milingimbi, a small island off the remote northern coast of Australia. After a mission was founded there in 1923, it quickly became a focal point for cross cultural and artistic contact and research. Community life is underpinned by the continuation of cultural practices and the making of artwork is a key part of this. Artistic practice inhabits a prominent place in Yolngu society and is core to governance and title, to country and ceremony, and unity and identity. The local art center, Milingimbi Art and Culture, is one of Australia’s premiere Aboriginal art and cultural organizations and has played an integral role in this opportunity.

During their visit in the United States from September 15 – October 8, Bulumbula and Naliyabu will be conducting in-depth research and will provide interpretation of artworks from Milingimbi, making new artwork in collaboration with UVA students studying sculpture in the McIntire Department of Art and opening a new exhibition at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, D.C.


Edward Ruhe, who collected about two thirds of the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, acquired more than a hundred works from Miilingimbi and visited the remote community on multiple occasions. According to curator Henry Skerritt, “Works from Milingimbi are some of the crown jewels of the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. They capture a dynamic snapshot of one of the most exciting moments in Australian art, but one that has been underappreciated and under-researched. It will be a great honor and an important opportunity to have elders Raymond and Joyce here.” The research that the artists undertake will culminate in an exhibition at Kluge-Ruhe that is scheduled to open in April 2018, showcasing the museum’s commitment to Indigenous curators and Indigenous voices.

Bulumbula and Naliyabu will be guest teaching in Professor William Bennett’s Sculpture I and II classes to construct a ceremonial object named “marratjiri,” also known as a “morning star pole.” This process involves carving and painting with natural pigments, which will be brought from Milingimbi, and hand-spinning feathered string.

The best opportunity for the public to meet Raymond and Joyce is Saturday, September 30, when they will discuss works from their community in a guided tour at 10:30 am, followed by a fiber-weaving demonstration by Joyce Naliyabu. Rafia will be supplied so that visitors can try weaving themselves.

On October 3, Bulumbula and Naliyabu will unveil a new exhibition of artwork from Milingimbi titled “Gapu Murnuk” at the Embassy of Australia, which will remain on view through November. This exhibition celebrates the coming together of freshwater and saltwater. When these two meet as a result of the tide, they create “gapu murnuk,” wealth and abundance, as well as “dharruwa ngata” (lots of food including fish and crocodile eggs). The exhibition features contemporary works for sale, including larrakitj (ceremonial poles), paintings on bark and paper, fiber works and carvings. Attending the opening is by invitation only, but the Embassy is open to the public 9 am – 12 pm and 2 – 4 pm, Monday through Friday.

This visit is made possible by the Mellon Foundation, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australian Government), Milingimbi Art and Culture and the Embassy of Australia.

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