Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

Festivals, Events & Exhibitions

Madayin Bark Painting Commissions

This project funds the creation of new bark paintings by Yolŋu artists for the exhibition “MADAYIN: Eight Decades of Aboriginal Australian Bark Painting from Yirrkala.”

Days Left

MADAYIN presents eight decades of one of Australia’s most unique contributions to global contemporary art. Comprising more than 100 bark paintings from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia and other major museums, MADAYIN will tour four venues in the USA from 2021-2023: The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, American University Museum in Washington DC, the Fowler Museum at the University of California Los Angeles, and the Grey Gallery at New York University.

MADAYIN is the first exhibition curated by Yolŋu Aboriginal people for an international audience, recognizing Indigenous authority and leadership. It is reshaping how museums engage with Indigenous art and people, decolonizing the museum and transforming museum hierarchies of knowledge. As the first in-depth exhibition of bark paintings in the USA, MADAYIN is opening doors for Yolŋu to tell the story of their culture and heritage.

For millennia, Yolŋu people around Yirrkala in northern Australia have painted their sacred clan designs on their bodies and ceremonial objects. These designs—called miny’tji—are not merely decorative: they are the sacred patterns of the ancestral land itself. Yolŋu describe them as madayin: a term that encompasses both the sacred and the beautiful. With the arrival of Europeans in the twentieth century, Yolŋu people turned to the existing medium of painting on eucalyptus bark with ochres to express the power and beauty of their culture.

The result was an outpouring of creativity that continues to this day as artists find new and innovative ways to transform their ancient clan designs into compelling contemporary statements. MADAYIN’S contemporary bark commissions are an essential part of Yolŋu art history, illustrating recent innovations in design that carry traditions forward.

Donations will be used to fund new commissions of bark paintings acquired by the Kluge-Ruhe Collection for inclusion in MADAYIN. The 30 new commissions include works by leading and early career artists, many of whom are not represented in the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. A selection of these works will be shown for the first and only time in Australia at the Art Gallery of South Australia during Tarnanthi in an exhibition titled “Dhawut (Fly Away): The 2017-19 Madayin Commission.” After Tarnanthi, they will “fly away” to America to join the historic works in MADAYIN.

The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the exhibition and study of Indigenous Australian art.

We expand knowledge and understanding of Indigenous Australian art and culture to cultivate greater appreciation of human diversity and creativity.


Eric Heenan


Samantha Lillie


Mary Durack


Paul and Margaret Skerritt



Artists Website