Barak Gallery

The Barak Gallery was established in 2002 as a means of securing a dedicated space within the Melbourne Grammar School for exhibiting Indigenous Art. It is named in honour of William Barak, for his role as an artist, leader, and ambassador for Indigenous people. Barak’s powerful drawings, which focused on Wurundjeri affairs and the business of ceremony, showcased his culture with great pride. 

In the words of Joy Murphy Wandin, Patron of MGS Reconciliation Committee, and great-great-niece of William Barak, “As an artist Barak’s drawings capture the imagination of the viewer because he renders tangible and visible what matters most in his world; as a leader he was respected as a highly successful negotiator and a trustworthy individual. (Remembering Barak. Exhibition Catalogue, National Gallery of Victoria, 2003)

In seeking to honour the legacy of this extraordinary man, the Barak Gallery is designed to provoke thought and encourage cultural engagement. With a range of Aboriginal art from various traditions and backgrounds, the gallery exists to celebrate artistic expression and challenge artistic stereotypes. This space also aims to affirm Indigenous identity, and pay homage to the oldest living culture in the world. 
Sit and look. Think and remember. 

The Barak Collection consists of the following works that have been acquired by Melbourne Grammar School.  For further insight into the collection and gallery access please contact the Nat Charles [nacharles@mgs.vic.edu.au] and Paul Baxter [rpbaxter@mgs.vic.edu.au].

Janangoo Butcher CHEREL
Wawanyi Winjirrgi 2000
linocut, edition 30/30
100 x 75 cm

Butcher Cherel (b. 1920, d. 2009) was born in Jalnganjoowa on the cattle station of Fossil Downs and he spent most of his working life as a stockman there.  He came to painting late in life and worked from the Mangkaja Arts Centre in Fitzroy Crossing.  He was awarded the honour of being a ‘State Living Treasure’ in 2004 and his works are in major collections in Australia including the National Gallery of Australia.  He was a key elder of the Gooniyandi language group.  He worked with the Australian Print Workshop when they first visited Fitzroy Crossing in 1994. 

Jean Baptiste APUATIMI
Untitled 2003
natural pigments on canvas
125 x 90 cm

Jean Baptiste Apuatimi (b. 1940, d. 2013) was a senior Tiwi elder and as an artist she made a significant contribution to her community as well as being recognized in Australia and overseas.  She is represented in major Australian collections and international collections such as the British Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, and the Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica. 

Apuatimi received tutelage and encouragement from her husband Declan Apuatimi, an artist, singer and dancer, most renowned for his carved ceremonial spears.  Initially motivated by the custodianship of Tiwi designs and depiction of Tiwi culture central to her husband’s practice, Jean Baptiste Apuatimi gradually developed her own style and became best known for her natural ochre paintings on canvas and for her carvings.  She was invited to exhibit in the inaugural Indigenous Art Triennial Culture Warriors at the National Gallery of Australia in 2007.  Her daughter, son and granddaughter are important Tiwi artists. 

Apuataimi’s paintings depict aspects of life as a Tiwi woman and objects such as spears, clubs, and tutini or Pukumani poles used in funeral ceremonies, which are represented in this work.  Other subjects painted by Apuatimi include sawfish and the female crocodile.

Gordon BENNETT
Figure
etching, edition 10/20
17 x 13.5 cm

Gordon BENNETT
Notes to Basquiat (Animism) 2002
inkjet print, edition 15/25
15.5 x 18 cm

Of these four works by Gordon Bennett there are two from the Home Décor series and two that relate to his interest in the black New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat who died in 1988. The two works relating to Basquiat were done after Bennett went to New York to exhibit at the Gramercy Hotel in 1998 and form part of a larger series of paintings and prints which are an homage to Basquiat. 

Notes to Basquiat (Animism) uses childlike drawing techniques derived from Basquiat as well as a cross appropriated from Melbourne artist John Nixon who in turn appropriated it from Russian Suprematist artist Kazmir Malevich.  This use of mixed cultural references is typical of Bennett’s work and explores, in this case, the degree of blackness in American culture (and by implication, his own degree of blackness), as well as instances of purity and blackness in the Modernist minimal tradition – the original cross (1923) by Malevich being black.

The etching Figure, is a much more direct homage to Basquiat and references Basquiat’s frequent use of the skull in self-portraits as a symbol of his own acute sense of mortality – Basquiat was only 27 when he died of a drug overdose.  It also makes use of text and other graffiti notations that refer to Basquiat’s work as a street artist under the pseudonym SAMO.

Gordon Bennett
Home Décor (Preston + De Stijl = Citizen) Horseman and School of Thought 1997
digital print, edition 1/20
15 x 15 cm

Gordon Bennett
Home Décor (Preston + De Stijl = Citizen) Post-Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in 2 Dimensions or Red Square 1997
digital print, edition 8/20
16 x 15 cm

Gordon Bennett became aware of his aboriginal heritage and background in his early teenage years – his mother grew up on the Cherbourg reserve in South East Queensland. After leaving school at Nambour he became an apprentice with Telecom working as a Line serviceman.  Bennett was thirty when he went to Queensland College of Art, graduating in 1988.

Bennett’s work has explored the construction of personal and cultural identity and initially coincided with Australia’s Bicentennial in 1988, when our cultural and colonial history were strongly debated.  Bennett has always worked within the larger Western artistic traditions he grew up with but also with a growing sense of his own indigenous heritage. 

The Home Décor series are digital prints relating to large-scale paintings that were developed using Photoshop to layer appropriated images from the early modernist art movement De Stijl, the 1930s abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian and the work of Australian early modernist artist Margaret Preston who used aboriginal motifs in her paintings.  In these two works Bennett plays with the layers of meaning and influence of multiple texts to explore authenticity, style and cultural heritage in ways that are ambiguous, witty and profound.

Unknown artist
Untitled (date unknown)
gouache on paper
105 x 76 cm

Raelene KERINAUIA 
Pukumani painting 2001
lithograph, edition 14/40
64.5 x 33 cm

Raelene Kerinauia (b. 1962 Bathurst Island, Northern Territory) has been involved with the Jilamara Arts and Crafts centre since its establishment in 1989.  Her work is held in the collections of major Australian galleries and museums and also in collections in Austria and France.  Kerinauia was one of the first artists to create screens for printing and had experience with fabric design before she started painting.  

At Jilamara she was encouraged to take up the traditional Tiwi painting tool, the ‘pwoja’ or carved wooden comb, used for painting bodies for ceremonial dances.  Using a pwoja carved by her late husband, she employs the traditional Tiwi dot technique to make her work.  In 2011 she won the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award with one of her pwoja paintings on bark of a crocodile. 

She has become a proficient printmaker and this lithograph depicts the poles used in a pukumani or funeral ceremony.  Carved and elaborately painted posts which take many weeks to prepare are central to the ceremony, and their positioning around the person’s grave is an event of great significance. 

Lee Darroch
Bunjilaka Bag 2000
linocut, edition 10/10
29 x 19.15 cm

Maryanne MUNGATOPI 
Bima 2001
etching and aquatint, edition 23/50
63 x 32.5 cm

Thompson YULIDJIRRI 
Namarrkon 2000
lithograph, edition 21/99

Lily KAREDADA
Untitled #5 2000
lithograph, edition 22/50
67 x 50 cm

Eubena NAMPITJIN 
Kinuu 2001
lithograph, edition 14/40
64 x 44.5 cm

These four limited edition prints were completed by the artists in conjunction with the Australian Print Workshop.  Three of the prints are lithographs, a process involving the application of ink directly on to a stone or metal plate, and the print by Maryanne Mungatopi is a type of intaglio print, created by engraving or etching into a plate.

The Australian Print Workshop (APW) was set up in Melbourne in 1981 and was initially called the Victorian Print Workshop.  It was envisaged by the artists involved in its establishment as a place for them to access printmaking facilities and learn about the printing process.  It has gained an international reputation, and has been involved in exhibitions around the world. 

The APW has played a significant role in the development of Indigenous printmaking, with senior printer Martin King and other Workshop staff visiting and working with artists from Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, Melville Island and Arnhem Land over a number of years.  Beginning with informal ‘bush workshops’ in which local artists were given the opportunity to work with a printing press and learn the techniques of etching and linocut, the collaboration has developed and expanded over time.  Many of the artists had no printmaking experience before working with the APW and have since made it a large part of their practice.

Lily Karedada (b. 1927, Western Australia) was born of Woonambal parents around the Prince Regent River. She works from Kalumburu, in northern Western Australia.  She is known for her refined representations of the Wandjina, a general term for the spirit ancestors of the present north-west Kimberley peoples.  The Wandjina are believed to bestow fertility to all species, and thus are often depicted covered in dots representing the rain.

Another figure from the Dreaming is depicted in Thompson Yulidjirri’s print Namarrkon (‘lightning spirit’).  Eubena Nampitjin (b. c 1920, d. 2013) was from the community of Balgo, deep in the Western Desert.  She was renowned for her gestural and vivid painting style.   The print by Tiwi artist Maryanne Mungatopi (b. 1966, d. 2003) is, by contrast, highly detailed and geometric.  Bima and her husband Purukuparli feature in the Tiwi creation story telling of the advent of death. 

Vicki COUZENS
Poorrpa karweeyn 2000etching, edition 5/10
29.5 x 19.5 cm

Vicki COUZENS
Woorn gunditj ngeeye alam men, meerring  2000
etching, edition 8/10
29.5 x 19.5 cm

Vicki COUZENS
Alam meen pang ngoorheen weng 2002
etching, edition 8/10
19.5 x 29.5 cm

Vicki Couzens (b. 1960, Victoria) is an important artist from the Western District and is now based in Warrnambool.  She is best known for her instrumental role in reviving her ancestors’ tradition of making possum skin cloaks.  She was the Artistic Director of the Possum Skin Cloak project, which was presented for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.  She was one of several artists who worked on the public art project birrarung wilam (‘River Camp’) at Birrarung Marr, which celebrates the diversity of Victoria’s indigenous culture, and  her paintings are in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.

Couzens sets out to connect with her Aboriginal heritage through an investigation of language and identity.  Indigenous people moving across the land towards a central meeting place are depicted in Poorrpa karweeyn, the title of which means ‘Travel to a gathering/corroboree’.  The two other etchings are finely detailed representations of cultural objects such as a shield and more personal but significant items such as a skirt and bag. The titles of these two works mean ‘Home belonging to our ancestors’ country’ (left) and and ‘Ancestors’ memories’ (to the right). 

Wendy Espie
Wet season 2012
acrylic on canvas
75 x 52 cm