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Wagga Wagga Art Gallery | Yidumduma Bill Harney: Bush Professor

Image: Yidumduma Bill Harney, Lirrmingining Grasshopper Man 2007, bark, natural pigment, vegetable fibre and feathers on wood. Image courtesy Stephen Rosenman and Rosa Saladino.
Wagga Wagga Art Gallery is delighted to present the new exhibition Yidumduma Bill Harney: Bush Professor an exciting retrospective celebrating the life work of Yidumduma Bill Harney, one of the last fully initiated men of the Wardaman people from the Northern Territory.
When he was a young man, Yidumduma worked in the pastoral industry and was quickly elevated to head stockman because of his entrepreneurial and charismatic personality. He now runs his own cattle station and is also an internationally renowned storyteller, songman, didjeridu player and artist. His remarkable paintings capture a wide range of customary topics often derived from the ancient rock art from his country in the Victoria River District southeast of Katherine, where he still undertakes rock art tours. He talks about the profound impact these images have had on his life and contemporary painting:
“We were taken to the rock art sites when I was young, then again when I was learning, in the initiation years,” Harney said. “The Lawman training often took place at the most important sites, so that’s why I remember the images so well. We were painting ourselves up, fixing the feather decorations, singing the song. We were sleeping among those places, dreaming the stories, finding Spirituals travelling in the stars. That’s how I paint, they’re in my mind all the time, I see them! So I can paint the Law!”
The curator of the exhibition Margie West said, “Yidumduma is deeply committed to passing on his cultural knowledge not only to younger Wardaman, but also to interested outsiders as part of his ‘two way’ philosophy. As the only senior Wardaman artist, his paintings give us a fascinating insight into topics as diverse as traditional law, astronomy, bush medicines, sorcery and ancestral narrative. This is his first major retrospective exhibition and provides national audiences with a unique look into his world for the very first time.”
His encyclopedic knowledge of Wardaman culture is also available on the Yubulyawan Dreaming web site that Yidumduma developed during a thirteen year major collaboration with educator Paul Taylor. This is also accessible in the exhibition being toured by the Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre in Katherine.
The artist’s work is widely exhibited, with major paintings held in the National Gallery of Australia, The Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin, Bond University and the University of Sydney’s Law School. He has also been a finalist in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Telstra Art Award twelve times and staged his very first solo exhibition at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) in 1990.
Yidumduma Bill Harney: Bush Professor is on display at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery until Sunday 13 May, 2018. The exhibition will be officially launched on Friday 16 March at 6pm by Cath Bowdler Director of Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre. There will be a special talk on Saturday 17 March at 10am exploring the Wardaman creation story then surveying a range of materials that will assist the audience in orientating the exhibition itself and the wider Wardaman Dreaming, ecological knowledge and contact history. This talk will be given by Jack Egan, who has created the complementary online resource to support the exhibition.
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