DemonstrationJean-Pierre Chabrol, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Australia
A digital resource space, johnmawurndjul.com – driven and owned by the artist – was developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) to support the major retrospective exhibition John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new.
The website is a keeping place and digital platform to share the work, language and knowledge of renowned Australian artist John Mawurndjul, a Kuninjku master bark painter from Western Arnhem Land.
The legacy of colonisation in Australia often manifests in speaking on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people without consultation or consent, a trend that has been subverted by giving the artist’s voice priority in every space within the website. The voice of the artist, particularly the audio-recorded glossary of Kuninjku terms, is crucial to the website as a resource for the artist’s community, Maningrida, as well as addressing the complexity of transmitting complex sacred knowledge and concepts to a general audience.
A 40-minute video, narrated by Mawurndjul, was filmed in Western Arnhem Land and recorded in Kuninjku, with dual Kuninjku and English subtitles. Also, an additional six short videos by subject were produced to support audience engagement and the learning resources. With respect to community cultural protocols, various acknowledgements to Country and a warning that the website contains images of those deceased was included.
The website is integrated with the backend of the MCA website CMS (Django platform with Wagtail, react frontend framework and pattern library.
This project has highlighted the significance of listening and documenting, and placing the artist’s work and voice foremost in every aspect of the exhibition. The website will remain a tool for language learners, particularly in the Maningrida community. Indigenous languages are constantly under threat in Australia, and Kuninjku has only 400 speakers. The website serves as a guide to the exhibition, but is also a tool for the Kuninjku language.
About the artist
John Mawurndjul AM (born 1952, Kubukkan near Marrkolidjban, Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia) is celebrated for his mastery of rarrk (fine-painted cross-hatching), a tradition shared by generations of Kuninjku artists. The exhibition of bark paintings and sculptures tells the stories of Kuninjku culture and the significant locations surrounding the artist’s home in Western Arnhem Land.
References and Resources:
Art in translation: Murray Garde and John Mawurndjul
A full-length video narrated by John Mawurndjul in Kuninjku, with English subtitles, filmed in western Arnhem Land.
Organisation using the language resource: