Sydney Opera House Lights Up for Badu Gili Festival of First Nations Culture

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Sydney Opera House Lights Up for Badu Gili Festival of First Nations Culture

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If you’ve been missing art and culture thanks to lockdown restrictions, you can feast your eyes on this extraordinary burst of colour and light in Sydney.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales kicked off its 150th anniversary celebrations, in collaboration for the first time, with the Sydney Opera House to mark the annual Badu Gili festival of First Nations Culture by projecting artworks onto the iconic sails of the Opera House.  

The work of six leading Aboriginal women artists represented in the Art Gallery’s permanent collection will light up each evening in a six-minute animation on the sails, as the Gallery leads up to the completion in 2022 of its Sydney Modern expansion project, designed by SANAA. 

Michael Brand, Director, Art Gallery of New South Wales, said, “While we work to complete our expanded art museum campus through the Sydney Modern Project that will see First Nations art displayed front and centre, we are proud to share some of our collection highlights with the world on the sails of the Sydney Opera House. Badu Gili: Wonder Women celebrates our renowned First Nations artists and their works in the Gallery’s collection, as well as our deep and longstanding relationships with communities across Australia and our curatorial leadership.”  

Badu Gili

The Sydney Opera House inaugurated Badu Gili in 2017. Badu Gili 2021: Wonder Women, curated by Art Gallery of NSW curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Coby Edgar, is a creative collaboration with the Opera House to mark the Gallery’s 150th anniversary. 

Aboriginal artist Elaine Russell’s work ‘Lachlan River, our childhood dreams’

Badu Gili 2021: Wonder Women weaves together the work of artists from across Australia: Wadawurrung elder Marlene Gilson; Yankunytjatjara woman Kaylene Whiskey; Luritja woman Sally Mulda; Western Arrarnta women Judith Inkamala and Marlene Rubuntja, and the late Kamilaroi woman Aunty Elaine Russell. 

This is the first all-female line-up for Badu Gili. 

The animation of their works brings to life stories of shared histories. From the Battle of the Eureka Stockade, fought between rebellious gold miners and colonial forces and the devastating bushfires of 2019-20, to everyday life in Aboriginal communities and imagined worlds of superheroes that includes the country music star, Dolly Parton.  

Aboriginal artist Marlene Rubuntja’s ‘Woman with dilly bags and dilly bag hat’

The spectacular animation of artworks from the Art Gallery’s collection will appear hourly on the Opera House’s eastern Bennelong sails each night from sunset, enabled by the NSW Government’s Culture Up Late initiative. 

150th Exhibition Programme 

The Art Gallery’s 150th anniversary celebrations are notable for the special exhibitions that will be organised and presented. Highlights include: 

  1. The National 2021: New Australian Art 

Staged across Sydney concurrently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, presenting the work of 39 emerging, mid-career and established Australian artists. 

Now to 5 September 2021.

  1. Archie 100: A century of the Archibald Prize 

One of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious art awards. Judged by the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW and awarded to the best portrait painting, the Archibald Prize exhibition is a who’s who of Australian culture – from politicians to celebrities, sporting heroes to artists. The exhibition tours across Australia until August 2023.  The 2021 Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes will run concurrently. 

From 5 June – 26 September 2021 

  1. Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings 

The first major survey of this visionary artist’s work to be shown in the Asia Pacific region, more than a century after she painted her most celebrated works. Presented in association with the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne and in cooperation with The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm, this new exhibition will feature 100 works. 

12 June – 19 September 2021 

  1. Matisse Alive 

A gallery-wide festival, Matisse Alive, includes four new works by women artists who present contemporary perspectives on Matisse’s imaginings of the Pacific, and his representation of the female figure. 

October 2021 – 2022

  1. Matisse: Life and Spirit, Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou, Paris 

Part of the Sydney International Art Series, the exhibition offers an extraordinary immersion in the range and depth of the art of Henri Matisse, with more than 100 works spanning six decades.

20 November 2021 – 13 March 2022  

  1. The Sydney Modern Project 

The anniversary celebrations will culminate with the grand opening of the Sydney Modern Project, the transformation of Sydney’s flagship public art museum. This major expansion, funded by the New South Wales state government and private donors, is scheduled for completion in 2022. It includes the development of a new standalone building designed by the Japanese Pritzker Prize-winning architects SANAA. It will be connected to the existing Art Gallery building via a public art garden, creating a civic campus on its magnificent site, adjacent to the Royal Botanic Garden and overlooking Sydney Harbour.  

Aboriginal artist Marlene Gilson’s ‘Ballarat, my Country’ projection

The Sydney Modern Project will give prominence to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, as well as revitalising the Gallery’s much-loved existing building with its unrivalled collection of Australian art from the early 19th-century to the present. For more than half a century, the Gallery has been at the forefront of collecting, displaying and interpreting historic and contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, and in engaging directly with artists and their communities.  

The new building designed by SANAA will sit in contrast to the Gallery’s 19th-century neo-classical building. Light, transparent and open to its surroundings, SANAA’s building responds to the site’s topography with a series of pavilions that cascade towards Sydney Harbour with spectacular views. The expansion will almost double the Gallery’s total exhibition space, from 9,000 to 16,000 sqm (97,000 to 172,000 sq. ft) and will feature galleries specifically designed to accommodate art of the 21st century. 

Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery 
of New South Wales

The new building will incorporate a vast, dramatic, columned underground art space repurposed from a decommissioned WWII naval oil tank that will display large-scale contemporary works. The 2,200 sqm (23,700 sq. ft) gallery with 7-metre-high (23 ft) ceilings will be used for specially commissioned installations and site-specific performances, providing public access to this unique space for the first time. 

To coincide with the anniversary, a new book will be published on 150 years of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. 

Main image: Kaylene Whiskey celebrates Art Gallery of New South Wales’ 150th Anniversary with ‘Dolly visits Indulkana’

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