Returning to the Birrundudu Drawings
In 1944/45, Aboriginal stockmen in the Northern Territory produced over 800 drawings representing their complex cultural lives. Working with the descendants of these artists, this project will generate new insights into a highly significant, yet little known, body of work.
A large collection of colourful drawings were produced by Aboriginal men at the remote Birrundudu outstation in 1944/45, twenty-five years before the rise of the Western Desert art movement in 1971. Prompted by the anthropologist Ronald Berndt to represent their cultural lives in the form of drawings, the men used ‘lumber’ crayons on brown paper to create vivid illustrations representing their ceremonies, their Ancestral stories and their important cultural sites. Unlike the drawings collected by the Berndts in Arnhem Land two years later, and which have now been recorded on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, the Birrundudu drawings remain little known and have never been exhibited. Their significance to the history of Aboriginal art has been largely overlooked.
Working with a number of Aboriginal art centres and communities across the Northern Territory and Western Australia, this project will take the Birrundudu drawings back the descendants of the artists. This research will not only explore the anthropological meaning of these works but also provide an indication of the processes of cultural attenuation and change that have occurred since the drawings were produced. How present-day artists and cultural leaders interpret this work and relate it to their own contemporary knowledge of place, ceremony, language and social history will also reveal much about cultural transmission.
Berndt Research Foundation