Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

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

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