Discover the remarkable story of one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures in this major exhibition.
The show is be the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, celebrating the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. This culture has continued for over 60,000 years in diverse environments which range from lush rainforest and arid landscapes to inland rivers, islands, seas and urban areas today. Hundreds of different Indigenous groups live across this vast continent, each with their own defined areas, languages and traditions.
Indigenous Australians developed sustainable ways of living from the land and sea using objects of great beauty and efficiency. From the deadly precision of a boomerang to bags and baskets for carrying water and food – essential for survival – these objects require supreme skill to design and make. In the exhibition, examples of practical objects such as spear-throwers (the ‘Swiss Army knife of the desert’) sit alongside magnificent works of art, such as Uta Uta Tjangala’s Yumari(1981) – a masterpiece now featured on the Australian passport. The oldest continuing art tradition in the world, Aboriginal art tells stories of the great ancestral beings who created the land and the people, and gave the law and lessons for living which still continue today. In contrast, the objects from the Torres Strait Islands reflect the centrality of the sea and its creatures to the Islanders’ beliefs and way of life, including spectacular turtle-shell masks used in ceremonies before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Together, the objects in the exhibition give an overview of Indigenous Australian culture throughout the continent, both remote and urban.
The exhibition features objects drawn from the British Museum’s unparalleled collection. Many of them were collected in the early colonial period (1770–1850), and have never been on public display before. There are important loans from Australian museums and specially commissioned artworks. Many Indigenous Australians have generously contributed to the exhibition, providing information, advice and permissions.
These objects represent the cultural continuity and resilience of these cultures since a British colony was established in Australia in 1788. The exhibition allows you to explore the complex relationships Indigenous Australians have with the natural world and how they have responded to changing historical circumstances. It is a remarkable story of how an ancient civilisation has endured and whose story is still unfolding today.
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