The Makaratta and exchanges with the Kluge Ruhe

Milingimbi Art and Culture has been working towards developing and maintaining respectful relationships with important Australian and International institutions after hosting many of them, who are custodians of a significant volume of cultural materials from the the community, at the 2016 ‘Makarrata’ event. Important cultural exchanges with the Berndt Museum (WA) and Kluge Ruhe (USA) in 2017 that have included hands on work with collections and significant work on their related documentation, which is often scant and inaccurate, have been extremely beneficial for all involved.

In 2018 the Milingimbi Art and Culture Centre hosted Kluge Ruhe intern Callie Collins for two weeks, after senior artists from Milingimbi had visited the Ruhe late last year to work on their collection, conduct workshops and deliver lectures to University of Virginia students. Callie Collins was able to work directly with a variety of senior Yolngu in a supported environment at the art centre. She updated the Kluge Ruhe’s documentation on over one hundred works in their collection while gaining valuable experience contextualising the collection in intricate cultural knowledge. The exchange nurtured a relationship that will continue to benefit Yolngu. A planned internship at the Ruhe by young Yolngu administration staff in 2019 will focus on collection management. Milingimbi Art and Culture and the Ruhe hope to formalise an annual exchange between the two organisations that will expose Yolngu and the  non indigenous custodians of their collections to important knowledge and processes. Two senior Yolngu artists will be hosted at the Swiss institution ‘Museum der Kulturen’, Basel, in September to undertake similar research and relationship building.

In addition to onsite consultation with collections, the Centre was approached by the National Museum of Australia to partner in updating its documentation of several works from its ‘Old Masters’ collection of bark paintings which will be touring China in ….. It was quickly ascertained that given significant costs and time frame concerns that sending NMA staff to the community to undertake this research was not viable. Instead, the NMA commissioned the Art Centre to collect and edit specific information on the bark paintings for a fee. The well developed relationships and intellectual capacity already present at the Centre ensured that the resulting detailed information collected by Art Centre staff surpassed all expectation.

The process was extremely cost effective, as the whole consultation and development of documentation cost less than flying up and housing an NMA staff member for a week, while already strong relationships were utilised to provide detailed knowledge that may have been inaccessible to a stranger. Senior Yolngu were employed as consultants at a respectful rate to provide this knowledge, the centre taking a small commission. The Milingimbi Art Centre encourages other institutions to re-examine the way they work with communities by utilising their research budgets in an effective manner that acknowledges community institutions and their capacity to engage in research processes. The cost of wages and remote remote travel has often excluded community inclusion and engagement but no longer has to. The Milingimbi Art Centre has greatly benefited from engaging in this process. A large part of this benefit has been the repatriation of images of old works to their families that has inspired new generations of artists to connect with old designs that are now freshened and made new. The research collected on site will remain on site to be managed in accordance with the cultural priorities of the community.

The success of these exchanges relies heavily on a foundation of respectful and mindful relationship building. The Centre respectfully acknowledges and thanks the above institutions for their dedication to making this important work a priority.