Exhibition 'Visual Music' at NGV International, Melbourne  © IDAIA

Exhibition ‘Visual Music’ at NGV International, Melbourne © IDAIA

‘The highest achievement of the greatest work of art is not to make us laugh or cry or to raise our lust
or anger but to do as nature does, to fill us with wonderment’

–  Lucien Freud

From August 10, 2013, the NGV Collection focus is on 8 leading female Indigenous Australian artists: Lorna Napurrula Fencer, Pulpurru Davies, Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, Kuruwarriyingathi Bijarrb Paula Paul, Wakartu Cory Surprise, Alkawari Dawson, Pukarlyi Milly Kelly and Wingu Tingima.

Each of these artists ‘unashamedly engage with the physicality of paint and the fearlessness of colour, and are unconstrained by precedent or by preconceptions of Indigenous art.’[1]  As suggested by the title of the exhibition, Visual Music: Masters of Light and Colour, their works illuminate the gallery with their considered layering of invigorating colours, filling the space with energy and emotion.

It is particularly exciting to view this exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria’s International home during its peak Winter Masters season as the works are exposed to an amplified number of visitors each day.  Visual Music is a dynamic contemporary companion to Monet’s Garden with both exhibitions focussing on the evocation of nature and light, through the free application of colour. Just as Monet was so deeply inspired by his garden at Giverny, the women of Visual Music, are too inspired by their surroundings, each demonstrating a personal connection deeply rooted in the Australian landscape.   The gallery’s holistic curatorial approach is brought together by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s synaesthetic installation, ‘Clinamen’ (2013) which ties the two exhibitions with both its allusion to Monet’s floating lilies and its sensorial dimension.

Furthermore, the focus on the female Indigenous perspective in Visual Music is refreshing. I was particularly captivated by the works of Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori and Lorna Napurrula Fencer. It is hard not to be enveloped by Gabori’s loud, large scale ‘Ninjilki’ (2008). This work depicts “the dirty water off Ninjilki caused by schools of dugong feeding on the sea grass on the bottom,”[2] demonstrating the artist’s keen understanding of her local ecosystem.  Combined with this knowledge, the works strength lay in its minimal aesthetic and free application of bold, contrasting colour.

Contrary to the crescendo that is the work of Gabori, Lorna Napurrula Fencer applies a more subdued palette in her works ‘Ngapa manu yapa’ (1999), ‘Wanakiji’ (1999) and ‘Yarla manu yapa’ (199). These works evoke a softer, more melodic feeling. Fencer uses intricate line work and layered patterning to depict kuruwarri (ancestral designs) that represent ngapa (water), ceremonial body painting,  wanakiji (bush tomato), and yarla (bush potato). Each of her works specifically reference yawalyu (women’s ceremonies) sharing with the viewer a vital part of the artist’s identity.

Other works on exhibition by Pulpurru Davies, Kuruwarriyingathi Bijarrb Paula Paul, Wakartu Cory Surprise, Alkawari Dawson, Pukarlyi Milly Kelly and Wingu Tingima equally activate the gallery space in a celebration of culture, colour, and rhythm.



[1] NGVI wall text

[2] (2008) Sally Gabori, as quotd on NGVI wall text


About the author:
Hayley Haynes is a curatorial contributor based in Melbourne. Hayley is completing a combined Hounours degree in French and Art history at the University of Melbourne, writing her thesis on Lena Nyadbi’s Dayiwul Lirlmim rooftop comission at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris.



Visual Music: Masters of Light and Colour Opens 10 August (Temporary Exhibitions, Level 3)

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot ‘Clinamen’ 03 May – 30 September

Melbourne Winter Masters: Monet’s Garden 10 May – 8 September 2013