Exhibition shines light on significant Balgo art movement

The Most Reverend Christopher Saunders launches the Balgo Banners exhibition.
The Balgo Banners exhibition in the Multi-Purpose Hall on the Broome Campus.

11 August 2015

Detailed artworks telling the stories of the Warlayirti artists were shared during Balgo Banners exhibition hosted by The University of Notre Dame Australia and the Catholic Diocese of Broome in July 2015.

Held at the Multi-Purpose Hall on Notre Dame's Broome Campus, it was the first opportunity for the Kimberley community to see this collection. The banners, following restoration, were on display in Melbourne and Alice Springs before making the trip up to Broome.

The banners tell narratives of the Warlayirti artists at the beginning of the art movement in Balgo – a small Aboriginal community nestled between the Great Sandy Desert and the Tanami Desert in Western Australia.

The exhibition comprised a selection of works that focused on a number of ceremonial banners which found their genesis in the celebrations of the jubilee Mass of the priesthood of Fr Anthony Peile SAC in Balgo in 1981.

In launching the Balgo Banners, The Most Reverend Christopher Saunders, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Broome, recognised this significant contribution to the Church as well as to Australia's Indigenous cultures.

"This simple event where the people were inspired to paint decorations heralded the beginning of the Balgo art movement with its distinctive style that continues to this day," Bishop Saunders said.

"As Bishop of this Diocese, I thank God for the inspiration for these beautiful works. In viewing these works, may you connect in spirit with those who produced them. Many of the artists involved have now passed on and we are grateful for their wonderful contribution."

During her presentation as part of the Barrgana Lecture Series at Notre Dame, Dr Jacky Healy, curator of the works, said a watershed exhibition in 1986 titled Art from the Great Sandy Desert was the catalyst for the establishment of the Art Centre at Balgo. The exhibition recognised the art from Balgo as a distinct body of work distinguished by diversity of style and bold use of colour.

Matt Hill, Campus Minister on the University's Broome Campus, said the Balgo Banners exhibition keeping stories about the land, mission and Indigenous communities alive in the Kimberley.

"We're asked to look at these paintings not as commodities, but as something beautiful. We're very privileged to be able to become part of the stories in this world," Mr Hill said.

For more information about events and courses at The University of Notre Dame Australia's Broome Campus, please visit www.nd.edu.au/broome.

Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093; leigh.dawson@nd.edu.au