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New Territory

Building upon an impressive collection with a loyal focus on Northern Territory art, Charles Darwin University Art Gallery and Collection is set to traverse brave new territory in the coming years.

By Claire Eltringham

Today, the CDU Art Gallery and Collection is located in building Orange 12 at the University’s Casuarina campus – a large, modern space for the Gallery and impressive stockroom to house the University’s Art Collection. The Collection was formally created when CDU was founded in 1989. Over the decades it has grown to become one of the most significant in the Northern Territory, one with a particular focus on works on paper and the acquisition of art by artists living in the Northern Territory.

Moving into a new phase and under the keen eye of recently appointed curator Joanna Barrkman, the Gallery’s program for next year is already exploring new ways of showcasing the University’s diverse Art Collection. One example is Birdsong, an exhibition that will draw on artistic depictions of birds. 

“Birds are very well represented in the Collection, across different media and form various cultural perspectives," said Barrkman. "Birdsong will showcase these works of art together with recent research conducted by University staff and students in relation to natural sciences, protecting endangered bird species and habitats in the Territory. The Yolŋu Studies Program is also interested to help, by inviting their students to interpret specific depictions of birds by Yolŋu artists.” 

It is this synergy – between education and art – that Barrkman finds most interesting in her new role. 

“Through an exhibition program that draws on the rich reserves within the Collection and utilises the resources at the University, there is a genuine opportunity to expand on the interface between research and the Art Collection,” Barrkman said.

It’s not only academic borders that Barrkman hopes to cross. As former curator of Asian Art at the National Gallery of Australia, and curator of Southeast Asian Art and Material Culture at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), Barrkman’s career has been one focused largely on art from further afield, something that is certain to inspire new direction when it comes to collecting for the University.

“We’re already working towards an exhibition of sculptures from Atauro Island in East Timor,” said the curator. “I’m also interested in creating opportunities whereby the Art Collection can assist the University to extend existing relationships and build new ones – in the Territory, Australia and throughout Asia. Darwin has such a richly multicultural community, as reflected in the University’s students and staff. So it makes sense to continue to grow those relationships, with Southeast Asia in particular.”

Despite having strong links to Asia, Barrkman truly is a Territorian at heart and welcomed the opportunity to exhibit the work of well-known Alice Springs based artist Marina Strocchi. The exhibition Marina Strocchi: a survey, 1991-2015, which opens this month, is a survey exhibition that builds on this popular Territory artist. 

The exhibition features 90 works on paper and canvas drawn from both public and private collections, as well as 15 etchings and lithographs that Strocchi created back in 2006 during an artist-in-residence at CDU’s print-making studio, Northern Editions. The exhibition is co-presented with Artback NT. It will take people on a journey of Strocchi’s creative experience over the past 24 years, from her early sketches and screen prints, into small landscapes and then the emergence of her large-scale paintings of Territory iconography.

According to Strocchi, the exhibition title is a considered one. “I associate a ‘retrospective’ as something an artist has towards the end of their career – I hope I have a few more years of art making in me yet!” said Strocchi. “I also like the word ‘survey’. Most of my work involves the landscape. What do people do when they observe the landscape? They ‘survey’ it.”

Throughout her career, Strocchi has travelled the world drawing on international influences such as the work of Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and Joan Miró, mingled with artists from the ROAR Group in Melbourne, helped set up an art centre working with Indigenous people in the Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) community in the Central Desert, before eventually falling in love with and settling in the Red Centre of Australia in the outback town of Alice Springs.

With such a breadth of experiences, travels, observations and cultural influences contributing to Strocchi’s body of work, the idea of the artist choosing one particular work as a ‘favourite’ seems challenging. 

“It’s a portrait of Litchfield Park called Top End Scrub. I’d done a lot of small paintings and studies prior to making this, then I progressed on to a large canvas. It’s a smouldering landscape. Yes, I’m pretty happy with that landscape.”

WHEN Thu 12 Nov 2015 – Fri 19 Feb 2016 | Wed – Fri, 10am-4pm & Sat 10am-2pm 
AT CDU Art Gallery, building Orange 12, CDU Casuarina campus


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