Performing Country

  March 16, 2023 - February 25, 2024

  On view in the Kluge-Ruhe Main Galleries


Performing Country, an exhibition highlighting never-before-seen works from the museum’s permanent collection, explores the ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists explore the complex idea of Country – the people, plants, animals, creator beings, and stories that all emerge from the place they call home.

Each work offers a different perspective on the performance of culture and Country. The artworks invite you to consider a constantly unfolding artistic tradition, performed anew in each pattern, song and ceremony. In the gesture and movement of these artworks, consider the moment of creation: when the artist’s hand moved across the canvas or when the ancestors danced across the earth. Just as every action performed in ceremony is simultaneously new and old, these works call you to be in both the present and the eternal everywhen.

From the sweeping brushstrokes of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, to the body paint designs of Tiwi ceremonies reproduced on canvas, to the scarred surfaces of Tony Albert’s photographic series Brothers, to the palpable vibrations of Yukultiji Napangati’s desert dot paintings, Performing Country celebrates the indelible bond between embodied Indigenous identities and the land.

Performing Country was sponsored by the UVA Parents Program. It was curated by Emmy Monaghan and Brendan O’Donnell with Henry Skerritt.

The songlines and the paintings are interwoven with the same knowledge. The dancers are the guardians of the songlines and their ceremonial performance is the physical display of the songlines’ power. It is the same power and knowledge that is in these paintings. Everything is connected.



Performing Country was curated by Emmy Monaghan and Brendan O’Donnell.

EMMY MONAGHAN is a PhD student in the UVA Department of Art, working under the direction of Henry Skerritt. She studies contemporary Aboriginal Australian art and is currently an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow in Indigenous Studies. Before entering the University as a doctoral student, Emmy worked as the Collections Assistant at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection where she catalogued and researched the Basil Hall collection of prints. She contributed to several exhibitions at the Kluge-Ruhe, including co-curating Boomalli Prints & Paper: Making Space as an Art Collective and Performing Country. Emmy also served as the Curatorial Assistant for Oliphant: Unpacking the Archive at the Special Collections Library. She received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Virginia.

BRENDAN O’DONNELL is a PhD student in the UVA Department of Art, working under the direction of Christa Robbins and Douglas Fordham. His research focuses on art and artistic practice in and of the Arctic. Prior to his arrival in Charlottesville, Brendan studied comparative literary theory and philosophy at Freie Universität in Berlin, Ca’ Foscari in Venice, and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Having worked several years in the non-profit sector on the intersection of community and nature, he has presented his research across Europe and the United States on topics such as circular economy, urban development, Arctic identity, and the genealogies of cities. In addition to curating Performing Country, he also was a member of the curatorial team for Boomalli Prints and Paper, which was on view at Kluge-Ruhe in 2021.



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