The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has officially postponed a major exhibition of Aboriginal artwork currently undergoing review after allegations of interference from white studio assistants.
On June 7, the museum issued a statement about the exhibition Ngura Pulka – Epic Country officially being postponed. Scheduled to open this month, the show featured the work of Aboriginal artists from the APY Art Center Collective (APY ACC) and was billed as one of the largest community-driven art projects to be displayed at the NGA.
“All parts of Ngura Pulka are being entirely conceived, created, directed, and determined by Aṉangu people,” said a statement on the gallery’s website. “Home to 2,500 people, the APY Lands, in remote South Australia, support a network of Aṉangu communities, including seven key art centres.”
However, in April, the museum announced it was reviewing the exhibition’s artworks after a report from The Australian alleged that white studio staff had been painting on the works attributed to residents of Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY), sparsely populated lands in remote South Australia that are home to more than 20 Aboriginal communities. The Australian also published video that it said appeared to show a non-Indigenous art assistant making creative decisions and painting on a depiction of the Tjukurpa — the creation period of ancestral beings that also formed the religion, law, and moral systems that govern Anangu society.
The NGA said the decision to postpone the opening Ngura Pulka – Epic Country had been made due to an independent panel review needing more time to “fully complete their work” to check if the works were consistent with the museum’s provenance policy, as well as the Australian government also announcing it would undertake a joint investigation.
“The National Gallery will work with the artists and Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) community leaders in relation to the exhibition and will await the outcome of both reviews,” the museum statement said. “The National Gallery is committed to continuing to work with APY Lands artists and supporting their ground-breaking work.”
The NGA originally said it expected to receive findings from the independent review by May 31.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the APY ACC issued a statement supporting the gallery’s decision to postpone the exhibition. “Light is always the best defense to darkness,” it said.
“Given recent accusations that we believe are without merit, we welcome the most rigorous and robust reviews of the work. Knowing the truth and authenticity of the works and having an abundance of pride in this project and every facet of our important program and the business we’ve built, we are content to wait for the independent panel to make their findings.”