The BP exhibition

Indigenous Australia
enduring civilisation

23 April – 2 August 2015

 

Supported by BP BP logo

Organised with the National Museum of Australia
 

Logistics partner

IAG logo

 

 
 

This exhibition is now closed


The BP exhibition

Indigenous Australia
enduring civilisation

23 April – 2 August 2015
 

Supported by BP BP logo

Organised with the National Museum of Australia

Logistics partner

IAG logo

This exhibition is now closed



About the exhibition

This major exhibition explored the remarkable story of one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures.

The show was the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, celebrating the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. This culture has continued for over 60,000 years in diverse environments which range from lush rainforest and arid landscapes to inland rivers, islands, seas and urban areas today. Hundreds of different Indigenous groups live across this vast continent, each with their own defined areas, languages and traditions.

Indigenous Australians developed sustainable ways of living from the land and sea using objects of great beauty and efficiency. From the deadly precision of a boomerang to bags and baskets for carrying water and food – essential for survival – these objects require supreme skill to design and make. In the exhibition, examples of practical objects such as spear-throwers (the ‘Swiss Army knife of the desert’) sat alongside magnificent works of art, such as Uta Uta Tjangala’s Yumari (1981) – a masterpiece now featured on the Australian passport. The oldest continuing art tradition in the world, Aboriginal art tells stories of the great ancestral beings who created the land and the people, and gave the law and lessons for living which still continue today. In contrast, objects from the Torres Strait Islands reflect the centrality of the sea and its creatures to the Islanders’ beliefs and way of life, including spectacular turtle-shell masks used in ceremonies before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Together, the objects in the exhibition gave an overview of Indigenous Australian culture throughout the continent, both remote and urban.

The exhibition featured objects drawn from the British Museum’s unparalleled collection. Many of them were collected in the early colonial period (1770–1850), and had never been on public display before. There were important loans from Australian museums and specially commissioned artworks. Many Indigenous Australians generously contributed to the exhibition, providing information, advice and permissions.

These objects represent the cultural continuity and resilience of these cultures since a British colony was established in Australia in 1788. The exhibition allowed visitors to explore the complex relationships Indigenous Australians have with the natural world and how they have responded to changing historical circumstances. It is a remarkable story of how an ancient civilisation has endured and whose story is still unfolding today.

Recommend this exhibition