Beginning on the 23 April, and running through to 2 August 2015, the British Museum will be hosting an exhibition focusing on the remarkable story of one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures –
The show will be the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, and will celebrate the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. This culture has continued for over 60,000 years in diverse environments which range from lush rainforest and arid landscapes to inland rivers, islands, seas and urban areas today. Hundreds of different Indigenous groups live across this vast continent, each with their own defined areas, languages and traditions.
Indigenous Australians developed sustainable ways of living from the land and sea using objects of great beauty and efficiency. From the deadly precision of a boomerang to bags and baskets for carrying water and food – essential for survival – these objects require supreme skill to design and make. In the exhibition, examples of practical objects such as spear-throwers (the ‘Swiss Army knife of the desert’) will sit alongside magnificent works of art, such as Uta Uta Tjangala’s Yumari (1981) – a masterpiece now featured on the Australian passport. The oldest continuing art tradition in the world, Aboriginal art tells stories of the great ancestral beings who created the land and the people, and gave the law and lessons for living which still continue today. In contrast, the objects from the Torres Strait Islands reflect the centrality of the sea and its creatures to the Islanders’ beliefs and way of life, including spectacular turtle-shell masks used in ceremonies before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Together, the objects in the exhibition will give an overview of Indigenous Australian culture throughout the continent, both remote and urban.