Brian Nyinawanga, Visions of the City (1993). Collection Flinders University Art Museum. On display, Flinders University Art Museum, Bedford Park, Adelaide. In the 1980s, Brian Nyinawanga was atypical for an artist living in Milingimbi, in remote Arnhem Land. He painted Dreamtime stories but he also painted contemporary events such as people shopping or driving or using radio transmitters, all depicted in the traditional style of rarrk or crosshatching.
“It was very unusual at that time,” says Djon Mundine, an independent Bundjalung creator. “Brian had spent some time working on cattle properties and he’d seen a lot of Western civilisation and it was the natural progression to put it into his bark paintings … Brian was interesting to say the least.”
One of Nyinawanga’s best-known works, Visions of the City, is in the collection of Flinders University Art Museum. The screen print depicts the artist’s visit to Sydney, the first major city he had seen apart from Darwin.
It is evident Sydney’s cityscape made quite an impression, especially the traffic and the streets crowded in by tall buildings. Centrepoint Tower dominates the middle of the composition. There are also scenes that the artist experienced: people walking through Hyde Park, a picnic, visitors to the Art Gallery of NSW, the domestic airport.
Museum director Fiona Salmon, who knew Nyinawanga when she worked at Darwin’s Maningrida Arts and Culture, says the work exudes joie de vivre. “To me, the work is very special because I knew the artist, who died a few years ago. I was very fond of him. He had an extraordinary sense of humour and I think that comes through in the work.”
She adds: “Visions of the City is a very good example of how indigenous cultures are evolving and changing all the time. There is this notion … that indigenous culture is fixed in another time but this notion is completely blown out of the water by a work like this.”
Colour inks on paper, 54cm x 76cm