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Bardayal Lofty Nadjamerrek AO

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


10 Dec 2010 to 20 Mar 2011

Curator: Keith Munro

about the exhibition

This exhibition presented the art and life of Bardayal 'Lofty’ Nadjamerrek AO, a highly respected senior artist, ceremony man and traditional knowledge-holder who lived and worked in the escarpment country of Western Arnhem Land, in Australia’s far north. Born around 1926 in Kukkurlumurl, near the Mann River, Bardayal Nadjamerrek first encountered balanda (white people) as a teenager when he worked in a tin mine at Maranboy. He was a labourer for the Australian Army during World War II and undertook various jobs including timber cutting and road work until the late 1960s.

Bardayal first began painting for the western art audience in 1969 at Gunbalanya with the encouragement of missionary Peter Carroll. His artwork on bark, paper and in print media documents a contemporary art practice and its close connection to older living traditions. He painted as part of ceremony with natural ochres throughout his life. His repertoire quickly evolved from single figure artworks to more complex narratives of ceremonies he had participated in, as well as painting at important rock art sites connected to his Mok clan estate. His characteristic x-ray painting style uses blocks of colour and fine parallel hatching or line work that at times shimmer in effect.

Bardayal’s professional practice was inspired by the longest continuous art tradition in the world and one of the oldest forms of human expression ― rock art painting. He was the last of his generation of master painters to create artworks on the gallery walls of the escarpment country of the Arnhem Land plateau.

Bardayal passed away at Kabulwarnamyo in October 2009. Throughout his life he inspired others and passed his knowledge on to his children and grand children. This exhibition included a wall painting especially commissioned and painted by members of the artist’s immediate family.

An online micro-site developed to accompany the exhibition was the recipient of The People’s Choice Art Category for the Pixel Awards, an international competition for website design. The site and design team, Canvas Group, were also highly commended at the National Create Design Awards in September.

The MCA worked closely with the Nadjamerrek family who have given permission to use his proper name for the purpose of the exhibition, publication and online micro site.

He was generous in sharing knowledge of his artwork and country with other families and friends. He helped these people and now they are sharing their knowledge with their children and other families living on their own land.

Nadjamerrek family, from the exhibition catalogue

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