Ngarang (small): little Barks from the Top End

Koskela Gallery is excited to present, Ngarang (small): little barks from the Top End.

The Koskela Gallery is delighted to showcase a diverse range of First Nations artists and art centres from across Australia. As part of our commitment to reconciliation, our gallery space is a platform to recognise, respect and raise awareness of the important role community art centres and artists play in keeping culture strong. 

Ngarang is a collaborative exhibition, featuring a collection of miniature bark artworks from four art centres in Australia's Top End - Maningrida Arts & Culture, Injalak Arts, Marrawuddi Arts and Bula'Bula Arts. This exhibition is available online and is showing at our North Sydney location from 11th March - 16th April, 2023.

For millennia, clan designs have been painted on bodies and ceremonial objects. In the twentieth century, these designs were painted on Stringy bark expressing the beauty and power of the artists culture and becoming highly collected art forms. Koskela’s latest exhibition Ngarang is an exhibition of these beautiful barks in a miniature form by artists from Art Centres that span the Top End region.Bark is a versatile medium both traditionally and in the contemporary art space. It can be stretched, whittled, carved and fused into cloth - a natural and wild canvas. Collecting and preparing the bark is not as easy as grabbing a canvas from the art supplies store!

Scroll right to view image gallery ->

The bark of the Stringybark tree is used and must be free of knots and other blemishes. It is best cut from the tree after the wet season when the sap is rising. Two horizontal slices and a single vertical slice are made into the tree, and the bark is carefully peeled off with the aid of a sharpened tool. Only the inner smooth bark is kept and placed in a fire. After heating in the fire, the bark is flattened under foot and weighted with stones or logs to dry flat. Once dry, it is ready to paint on. 

Not only is this exhibition a vibrant articulation of artistic expression, latent in cultural stories, but by using bark as their medium, every element of the exhibition is hand-made and prepared by the artists. A very beautiful and resourceful way to create.


The Art Centres

Injalak Arts

Injalak Arts was established in 1989, and is an Aboriginal owned centre for art, craft and community who strive to deliver positive social, economic and cultural outcomes for all involved. Based in Gunbalanya, an Aboriginal community with a population of 1200 in West Arnhem Land at the top of the Northern Territory in Australia.

In Kunwinjku (the language of the artists), Injalak means shelter. Injalak Arts pride themselves on creating a safe place for culture, creativity and knowledge to bloom within the community. With over 200 active members – artists, weavers and craftspeople from Gunbalanya and surrounding homelands, their year-round production of art is inspired by connection to culture, country and people.

All of Injalak's art is informed by the artists’ experiences, country, and culture. In West Arnhem Land bininj (men or people) and daluk (women) are born into eight skin groups and two moieties, Duwa and Yirridjdja. Each cultural group has their own history and traditions and each belong to a kunmokurrkurr (clan). In the same way a story or Djang (creation stories or Dreamings) can change depending on who is telling the story, the connections between people and the cultural intricacies they share also influence artistic expression.

Today, all the artists are linked by Kunwinjku language and the significance of the Arnhem Plateau rock art. At the core of West Arnhem Land, 2 million hectares of sandstone escarpment stretches across the Northern Territory. This escarpment, and outliers like Injalak Hill in Gunbalanya, are some of the most salient and valuable areas of rock art in the world. The immeasurable depths of history in country continues to live through our artists today by creating works informed by the layered paintings of thousands of years ago.

The works featured in Ngarang are by the following Injalak artists: Illonia Namirriki, Joey Nganjmirra, Michael Naborlhborlh, Ina Garnarradj, Johnathon Yarndjarn Garnarradj, Don Nakidilinj Namundja, Shadrack Patlas, Moses Wurrkidj and Shaun Namarnyilk.

Maningrida arts & Culture

Maningrida Arts and Culture is a Top End art centre spanning over 7,000 square kilometres across Kunibidji country. Djang (the on-going eternal, life-giving transformative power that accounts for every aspect of existence) unities 100 clan estates and more than 12 distinct language groups of the area. Maningrida artists channel this spiritual and creative force through their works, telling stories of country and creation ancestors.

Maningrida artists use only Stringybark trees in their practice. The bark is harvested after the wet season, the first step is to strip the tree, then cure it by a fire and finally leaving it to dry under weights. This helps flatten the natural canvas, although the beauty in these pieces is that over time the edges gently curl up.

Artist Eleazer Nangukwirrk harvesting barks near Maningrida community

Artist Eleazer Nangukwirrk harvesting barks near Maningrida community

Bark harvesting near Yikarrakkal oustation - artist Paul Nabulumo and his brother Dudley

The art centre has received international acclaim for the artists' powerful articulation of their connection to country, spirituality and political activism. Doloppo bim (bark painting) are a traditional artistic practice to Maningrida, to find out more click here.

The works featured in Ngarang are by the following Maningrida artists: Paul Nabulumo Namarinjmak, Francis Garwun Rankin, Manasseh Namunjdja, Pam Wurrkidj, Charlie Nangukwirrk Nanguqwerr, Ken Ngindjalakku Djungkidj, Thomas Baru and Zipporah Nanguwerr

Bula'Bula Arts

From fibre art to paintings depicting traditional stories—internationally renowned Bula’bula Arts supports 150 artist members from Ramingining and its surrounding outstations. Artists receive 60% of the retail sales price of the artwork, with the remainder used for all operational costs. The physical arts centre is an iconic tropical elevation style building in the heart of the Ramingining community in Central Arnhem Land, 400 kilometres east of Darwin.

Local artists coined the name Bula’Bula meaning the voice/tongue of Gandayala (red kangaroo) Ramingining’s Creation Being. The name represents the message in the song cycle of the red kangaroo’s journey from the Roper River to the Ramingining region. The story is depicted in unique Ramingining-style—steeped in spiritual, ritual and historical narratives across a variety of mediums: print, painting, sculpture, fibre art, song, dance, as well as film and literature mediums.

The artists have a compelling material culture producing works of deep ritual and spiritual significance and are authentic in their connection to Yolngu (people) and their true nature and beliefs. The artworks contain meaningfulness about sophisticated and complex social structures: such as ceremonies, songs, language, creation beings, family and the Yolngu identity within, as well as the relationships between all things: such as animals, plants, birds, trees, fish and water.

The works featured in Ngarang are all by the artist JB Fisher. JB started painting for Bula’Bula Arts in around 1994. He spends his time between Ramingining and Maningrida, painting for both art centres and has  also worked as a conservator for both art centres. JB is committed to painting in natural bush ochres. He specialises in bark paintings and hollow logs which, in the main, depict stories about honey, (colloquially known as sugarbag) and bush tucker.

Marrawuddi Arts

Marrawuddi is the Kundjeyhmi word for White Belly Sea-Eagle, a bird commonly found around Kakadu and West Arnhem Land.

Marrawuddi Arts & Culture is a vibrant art centre and gallery, owned and governed by the Mirarr Traditional Owners. The art centre supports artists across different disciplines such as painting, screen-printing, weaving, photography and sculpture and is located at Jabiru, in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory.

Engaging over 500 artists from in and around Kakadu, Marrawuddi Arts & Culture showcases the culture of the Kakadu and West Arnhem region. Staff support artists through regular bush trips to collect traditional materials, such as pandanus, bush dye and bark, as well as facilitating workshops for skill development. Marrawuddi Arts & Culture is a place for intergenerational exchange and learning.

The works featured in Ngarang are by the following Marrawuddi artists: Clarrie Nadjamerrek, Carissa Gurwalwal, Roberta (Yulyulmarra) Wurrkidj, Johnan Dooley, Eleazer Nangukwirrk, Jill Namundja, Pam Wurrkidj, Ruth Bindeibal

Koskela is thrilled to bring together First Nations cultures from across the Top End to showcase the rich and diverse history of bark.

Koskela is deeply committed to reconciling with our First Nations history and cultures, and we do this by creating income earning opportunities for First Nations artists and makers through collaborative design projects and our gallery space. This generates an income independent of Government, helping artists to continue to live a life they have chosen to lead and maintain their traditional practices. It also facilitates artists to access markets outside the traditional art markets, enabling them to tell their stories and showcase their cultures to a broader audience. To date we have collaborated with 71 First Nations artist and art centre partners, generating over $1.4 million in income.

Do you have any questions? Get in touch today, and we will connect you with the right person in our team.

Koskela is proud to be the first furniture and homewares company in Australia to be a Certified B Corporation®.

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