Defining Moments: Digging for Honey Ants: the Papunya mural project

Mon 29 Apr 2019

This is a past program.
ACCA Foyer
Season Pass: $200/$130 Casual Session: $35/$20

Season Pass: $200/$130*
Single ticket: $35/$20*
Ticket includes complimentary cocktail on arrival by The Melbourne Gin Company
*Concession cards must be shown to obtain concession price

Lecture by John Kean; Respondent: Hannah Presley

The creation of murals at the Papunya School in 1971 is cited as the singular catalyst that set off the Western Desert Painting movement. The truth of this claim is in fact more complex, confounding and consequential. This lecture examines the subject of the murals, and the broader social context in which they were created. The lecture reveals how this mythic gesture (on walls that few outside the community saw), signifies a telling shift in colonial relations.

The subject of the largest mural, the tunnels and chambers of Yerrampe (the Honey Ant site) leading to Papunya, makes visible songlines and kinship networks that connect country – the unseen realities that govern life in Central Australia. The authority of individuals, previously relegated to duties as yardmen and gardeners, became apparent as they painted resonant icons in a pedagogical setting. Their power was made manifest through the depth of their relationship to the images they created. Already an artist and go-between, Kaapa Tjampitjinpa was critical to this process – it was he who negotiated the form of the Yerrampe mural with senior custodians and school authorities. Kaapa’s genius was to give tangible form to the totemic landscape on which the colonial edifice of Papunya was sited.

John Kean was Art Advisor at Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd from 1977-79, the inaugural Exhibition Coordinator at Tandanya: the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, 1989-92, Exhibition Coordinator, Fremantle Art Centre 1993-96 and Producer at Museum Victoria 1996 -2010.  John is currently undertaking a PhD in Art History at the University of Melbourne. John has published extensively on Indigenous art and the representation of nature in Australian museums.

Hannah Presley is an Aboriginal curator based in Melbourne, with family connections in Alice Springs and Peppimenarti in the Northern Territory. She is currently the inaugural curator for the Yalingwa program at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Presley was First Nations Curatorial Assistant for My Horizon: Tracey Moffatt at the 57th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2017. Her practice focuses on the development of creative projects with Aboriginal artists, working closely with artists, learning about the techniques, history and community that informs their making to help guide her curatorial process.

Please note, all lectures open at 5:30pm for a 6pm start.


What are the landmark exhibitions that have shaped Australian art? From 2019 to 2020, ACCA’s Lecture Series, Defining Moments: Australian Exhibition Histories 1968–1999, will take a deeper look at the moments that have shaped Australian art since 1968. In this two-year series, sixteen guest lecturers will analyse the game changers in Australian art, addressing key contemporary art exhibitions staged over the last three decades of the twentieth century and reflecting on the ways these exhibitions shaped art history and contemporary Australian culture more broadly.

Ambitious, contested, polemical, genre-defining and genre-defying, contemporary art exhibitions have shaped and transformed the cultural landscape, along with our understanding of the very nature of what constitutes as art. This program traces the legacies of artists and curators, addresses the critical reception of select significant projects, and reflects on a wide range of exhibitions and formats; from artist run initiatives to institutions, as well as interventions in public space and remote communities.

Presented by Abercrombie & Kent with Research Partner, Centre of Visual Art (CoVA) at The University of Melbourne, the two-year series brings together a diversity of voices with hour-long lectures and conversations involving exhibiting artists, curators, art critics and historians, with the first set of lectures scheduled from April to November 2019.

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