Being Tiwi brought together prints and paintings by nine artists from Australia’s Tiwi Islands. Located to the north of Darwin in the Northern Territory at the juncture of the Arafura and Timor seas, Bathurst and Melville islands are home to the Tiwi people – the fiercely independent, culturally unique, traditional owners of the land.
‘Tiwi’ loosely translates as ‘one people’, and island culture is characterised by a shared belief in the need to keep Tiwi customs alive.
The artworks in Being Tiwi highlighted how contemporary ideas and visual forms connected to and expressed transformations in culture. Tiwi motifs and designs (known as Jilamara) draw on a range of influences, the most important being the body painting which accompanies two significant Tiwi ceremonies: Kulama, which celebrates life, and Pukumani, a complex funereal ritual.
Bridging the past and the present, Being Tiwi included the first prints produced on the islands in 1969 along with works acquired for the MCA Collection and works commissioned specifically for the exhibition. From the intricate to the gestural, and using yellow, red and white ochres sourced from the islands’ environs, these artworks highlighted the distinctiveness of Tiwi iconography.