John Gollings: Spirit of Place

This exhibition presents the work of one of Australia’s most prominent and acclaimed photographers, and explores his long-standing interest in recording the landscape, particularly ancient sites of spiritual significance to First Peoples. Images on display represent a selection of spectacular photographs taken between 1967 and 2015. Gollings’ aim for the project is to raise public awareness of and respect for the sacredness of these places for Aboriginal people. The site featured most extensively in the exhibition is Nawarla Gabarnmang, a magnificent decorated rock shelter in remote Arnhem Land – described by some as the Sistine Chapel of rock art

Nawarla Gabarnmang, Arnhem Land, 2015. © John Gollings.
Nawarla Gabarnmang, Arnhem Land, 2015. © John Gollings.

The site was excavated and painted by its Aboriginal inhabitants between 23,000 and 35,000 years ago. Its ceiling is supported by naturally occurring and partly excavated sandstone pillars and is embellished with layer upon layer of painted imagery, ranging from hand stencils and abstract motifs to animals and spirit figures. Within its gallery, which tells the rich stories of the shelter’s inhabitants and their ancestors across the millennia, is one of the oldest known examples of rock art – a charcoal drawing dated to 26,000 BCE.
The exhibition also includes two monumental montages of symbolic paintings on Nourlangie Rock in Kakadu National Park, and a selection of poetic black and white photographs of landscapes around Victoria that Gollings took to illustrate Aldo Massola’s pioneering publication Bunjil’s Cave (1968). Massola’s book presented stories, myths, and beliefs collected directly from Koori communities at a time when Aboriginal culture was virtually ignored by white Australians. The evocative photographs displayed in this exhibition have been created from the recently rediscovered negatives, which Gollings digitised and printed on an expanded scale to expressively convey the connection to country and age-old narratives that inspired them.

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