Chicago is fortunate to have been the only United States stop on Bangarra Dance Theatre’s 2019 tour. In preparation for their November 22nd and 23rd performances at the Harris Theater, FM hosted a panel discussion on November 19th between artistic director Steven Page, dancer Elma Kris, and Regenstein Curator John Terrell.
Before and after the talk, attendees were invited to view three specially selected Australian items from the Museum’s collection. Members of Bangarra selected two bark paintings with the help of Will Stubbs of the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala: Possum Tree Story by Narritjin Maymuru (c. 1916-1981) and Djambuwal, Master of the Storms and His Spear by Larrtjaƞa Ganambarr (1932-2000.) Maymuru and Ganambarr were both artists from Yolngu country, an area that inspired much of Bangarra’s current programming.
The paintings are part of the Louis A. Allen collection. Allen was something of an amateur anthropologist, travelling across Australia with the intent to meet artists and record their stories, while also collecting their work. Allen helped to revive interest in Aboriginal art in Australia with the publication of his book Time Before Morning. He eventually sold much of his collection to the Australian government and 13 pieces came to the Field Museum, of which 12 are bark paintings. They were last exhibited in 1972, when they were donated to the Field.
The third item on display was a shield, likely from Victoria. Museum staff chose this item to represent one of the “mysteries” of the collection, an object with very little information associated with it -- but one we hope community members and researchers may one day fill in the blanks for and help us solve.