Western Arnhem Land Bark Paintings Collection
The Spencer Bark Paintings Collection
A collection of around 190 Aboriginal bark paintings from western Arnhem Land. This includes the first significant collections from this region assembled by Baldwin Spencer and Paddy Cahill. The 38 works collected by Spencer in 1912 are from the Alligator, East Alligator and South Alligator Rivers area of western Arnhem Land and were taken from the inside of wet season shelters. Over the following decade, another 170 or more bark paintings from Oenpelli and the Alligator Rivers area were commissioned by Paddy Cahill for the National Museum of Victoria.
A collection of around 190 Aboriginal bark paintings from western Arnhem Land. This includes the first significant collections from this region assembled by Baldwin Spencer and Paddy Cahill. Significance: This collection has its origins in 38 works collected by Baldwin Spencer in 1912 the area of the East Alligator and South Alligator Rivers in western Arnhem Land. These works were removed from the roofs of living shelters erected during the wet season. Spencer then engaged Paddy Cahill, the pastoralist at Oenpelli, to commission senior men of the region to produce bark paintings for the then National Museum of Victoria. Subject matter was the artist's choice and all participants were financially compensated. Over the following decade, around 170 bark paintings were produced from the Aboriginal men living in and around Oenpelli. Spencer's actions are significant as they mark the beginnings of the production of Aboriginal bark paintings for sale. Missions were established in Arnhem Land during the 1920s and 1930s, and by the 1950s, bark paintings and other cultural material was steadily available in an emerging art market. The history of this collection also marks a radical change in the perception of Aboriginal art. Public awareness of Aboriginal art and artefacts from Arnhem Land grew rapidly following the stabilisation of the marketplace. In response to growing community interest, the National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria) established itself as a leading collector of Australian Aboriginal cultural heritage. Several exhibitions of Aboriginal material were staged. Most notable is Primitive Art (1929), which was the first major exhibition of Aboriginal art with the western Arnhem Land bark paintings at its core. The discourse associated with this exhibition reflects the thinking of the period: Aboriginal works were viewed not as art but as ethnography. By the late 1960s, a major change had taken place. No longer seen as either primitive or derivative of European influence, Aboriginal art had gained widespread recognition as an art form in its own right. The reasons for this transition include changing Western concepts of aesthetics, increasing collectability and marketing of Aboriginal art, growing knowledge of Aboriginal cultural practices and the determination of Indigenous practitioners to raise awareness of the value of their culture. Today, Aboriginal art is appreciated on a global scale. Note: Sensitivities apply to the use of bark paintings in exhibitions and publications; consultation with Aboriginal communities may be necessary.
1912-1990; Aboriginal art; Baldwin Spencer; Bark paintings; Paddy Cahill
Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia; Kakadu, Northern Territory, Australia; Alligator Rivers, Northern Territory, Australia; Oenpelli, Northern Territory, Australia