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2 October 2007


The works in this exhibition, 'Gifted' come from the Molly Gowing Acquisition Fund for Contemporary Aboriginal Art, and since about 1992 our benefactor, Molly Gowing, has been giving us an annual stipend to buy contemporary works of Aboriginal art and to day we've bought almost 400 works, and about 100 of them are on display in this exhibition.

We've got about 100 works in the exhibition and we've grouped them loosely according to different criteria such as desert artists, the Western Desert art movement, some of the artists from western Arnhem Land and some of the artists also from urban centres and the East Kimberley where, for instance, Rover Thomas was a very important artist in generating a contemporary art movement out of that community.

Another part of the exhibition is a room that's devoted to the work of three women artists: Emily Kngwarreye, Judy Watson and Yvonne Koolmatrie, and those three women represented Australia at the 1997 Venice Biennale.

So, within the exhibition there these sort of little chapters if you like that look at the changing nature of indigenous art practice but also some of the key themes that our artists continually explore in their work like country, culture and community.

I think one of the most significant moments in the development of the contemporary indigenous art movement as we know it today was the emergence of the Papunya Tula artists in the early 70s in a very small community west of Alice Springs.

And those artists have come in from bush to live in sort of a centralised government township and it was in response to the pressures of living in close proximity to other language groups and under quite difficult circumstances that these artists seized upon their culture as a way of affirming their identity and links to country.

And I think while that was just one part of a very big picture it was a very significant moment I think for many indigenous people.

So they saw from these artists' example a way of affirming their culture and expressing their culture to a wider audience.

In recent times we've had the work of artists shown in places such as the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, the new museum. Artist are having retrospective solo exhibitions around the world, also here in Australia.

And I think one of the most interesting areas is the increasing engagement of artists with new media, like photography and digital media and performance art.

So I think that indigenous culture is very dynamic and adaptive and diverse and I think that's something that will hold us well into the future and certainly the new crop, if you like, that are coming through now are very talented, very strong, very politically acute and I think it's going to be a very interesting next few decades.