Margo Neale, National Museum’s lead Indigenous curator with Minyipuru at Pangkal – Martumili Artists 2016. Photo Jason McCarthy NMA.
The ground-breaking National Museum of Australia exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters will go on display at the UK’s prestigious museum and art gallery The Box in Plymouth from June to October 2021 as part of an international tour of Australian art and culture. Songlines will also show at the Humboldt Forum in the newly reconstructed Berlin Palace, in Berlin, Germany, from late 2021 through to early 2022, and then on to France’s indigenous art and culture museum, the Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, in Paris, in 2023. “There has never been an Australian exhibition of this scale and significance to travel extensively to premier galleries across the world”, said artist Alison Page, a member of both the National Museum’s Indigenous Reference Group and the federal government’s Senior Advisory Group. Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters showcases five Indigenous Western and Central desert songlines, utilising around 300 paintings and photographs, objects, song, dance and multimedia to narrate the story of the Seven Sisters and the creation of this continent as they travelled from west to east. The exhibition is underpinned by a depth of scholarship that involved a research journey over some 500,000 square kilometres of the continent, across three states and three deserts. The project that led to the exhibition was initiated by Aboriginal elders who set out to preserve the cultural knowledge of the Seven Sisters songlines for future generations and to promote understanding of songlines for all Australians.
“We have bought the song, story and paintings full of Tjukurpa, the creation spirit of the Seven Sisters, to put in our exhibition...so many other people can look, learn and increase their understanding,” said Inawinytji Williamson, senior law woman and traditional owner of the Seven Sisters songline, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands, and spokesperson for the Community Curatorium who worked with the Museum to direct the representation of cultural material in the exhibition. “I am immensely proud to be taking Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters to overseas audiences who I know will be as captivated by this award-winning show as Australian audiences were, when the exhibition showed in Canberra in 2017,” said Dr Mathew Trinca, Director of the National Museum.
“The Songlines exhibition is the culmination of more than five years of collaboration between Indigenous communities, the National Museum in Canberra and the Australian National University. Nothing of this scale had been attempted before,” said Dr Trinca.
Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters traverses three Indigenous lands – APY (Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara), Ngaanyatjarra and Martu.
The Songlines tour to its first venue, The Box, Plymouth, is part of the UK/Australia Season 2021–22, a joint initiative by the British Council and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The season will take place in the UK from August to November 2021 and in Australia from September 2021 to March 2022.
“It’s really exciting to be able to bring such an important exhibition to Plymouth and to be involved in the UK-wide program for the UK/Australia Season 2021–22,” said Tudor Evans OBE, Leader of Plymouth City Council. “As we move on from 2020’s Mayflower commemorations to reflect on the significance of Captain Cook’s voyages, Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters will highlight the UK and Australia’s shared history and culture, Songlines will feature at the Humboldt Forum, Berlin, at the end of 2021and will showcase at Musée du quai Branly, Paris, from April 2023 to July 2023.
The exhibition features the world’s highest resolution seven-metre-wide travelling DomeLab under which visitors are immersed in animated art works, Seven Sisters rock art from the remote Cave Hill site in South Australia, and the transit of the Orion constellation and the Pleiades star cluster.