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Our feathered friends… the art of birds

With the NT boasting almost half of all bird species found in Australia, the connection is especially fertile. Our feathered friends… the art of birds, presented by Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery, celebrates this incredible diversity of birdlife through artists’ depictions of our avian associates.

By Anna Dowd

The sculptures, works on paper, weavings, ceramics and paintings which form the exhibition are largely drawn from the university’s extensive art collection. When curator Joanna Barrkman returned to Darwin after a two-year break, one of the first things she noticed was the amazing birdsong every morning. The idea of an exhibition connecting with world-class bird experts and research at Charles Darwin University soon took flight. 

“The more I started looking, I was astounded at the amount of work in the collection that actually references birds,” noted Barrkman.

Reflecting the universality of birds as a theme, the exhibition includes Indigenous and non Indigenous works. Based on the legendary bird residing in Stokes Hill Wharf is a bronze maquette, Chinute chinute, by Larrakia elder Koolpinyah Richard Barnes. The Larrakia believe Chinute chinute can see humans, but the human eye cannot see it. In contrast, from the arid central desert comes a vibrant and colourful installation of 42 works created by Warlpiri artists titled Jurlpu kuja kalu nyinami Yurntumu-wana - Birds that live around Yuendumu.

Barrkman says from the beginning the exhibition had a momentum of it’s own, with the marriage of art and science an illuminating theme.
After discovering there were no images other than photographs of the endangered Yellow Chat sub-species, local artist Chips Mackinolty teamed up with the expertise of researcher Dr Gillian Ainsworth to create the first ever rendition of the bird titled If it were that we could sing and fly forever.

Migratory birds take the exhibition across borders with The Flyway Print Exchange project, a series of works featuring 20 printmakers from nine countries that form the route flown twice-annually by Australia’s migratory shorebirds. Travelling to and from their breeding grounds above the Arctic Circle, many of these birds will be landing in a timely manner on our shores at Lee Point in October. 

Multimedia works add movement with Bower by Pip McManaus, capturing the process of a male bowerbird building in her Alice Springs backyard. And Locals who love birds created by Johanna Bell and Sarah Mackie explores what it is about these creatures that so fascinates humans.

For a bonus feather in your exhibition cap, internationally renowned bird specialist Professor Steven Garnett will give a public lecture on NT birdlife, with a symposium of talks on current bird research and a discussion on public art later in October.

Barrkman said the show included the full spectrum of ways to represent birds, from the very technical to the highly gestural. 

“There is obviously a huge diversity in how we symbolise birds, but what the exhibition shows is that we all have this abiding common appreciation of them.”

Click here for the event listing.

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