Visit the MCA To Check Out The John Mawurndjul Exhibition

By Hayley Dean, ellaslist

My two sons and I had a culturally enriched morning at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) today. Our visit coincided with NAIDOC Week 2018, where this year’s theme is “Because of her, we can”. We came to see the John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new exhibition currently on at the MCA. As we arrive, we stumble upon a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony on the front of the museum at Circular Quay. The boys love watching the traditional dancing and of course, the sound of the didgeridoo captures their attention immediately. It’s an intoxicating way to start our visit to the museum.

John Mawurndjul is from western Arnhem Land. He is considered a master of fine-painting cross-hatching style of painting, known as ‘rarrk’. (If you're interested, check out this glossary on the Kuninjku language.)

The exhibition displays 40 years of his work on bark paintings, sculptures and paper. From the MCA website: The places around western Arnhem Land that recur in his work include spring-fed creeks such as Milmilngkan, sandstone escarpments including Ngandarrayo and the white clay quarries of the seasonal creek called Kudjarnngal. The materials used by Mawurndjul to make his art come from these places: the stringy bark eucalypt skins that form the body of his bark paintings; the white clay, yellow and red ochres mined from sacred deposits that become paint; and the manyilk, the paint brush sedge that makes the single strand brushes that the artist uses to make cross hatching or rarrk.

I am personally a fan of Aboriginal art. As a family, we have travelled through the Northern Territory and Kimberley regions of Australia on several occasions and always try to pick up a piece of artwork along the way, though we are by no means expert on the subject. On our last trip to Uluru, we enrolled in a dot painting class lead by a local Indigenous leader. We were taught the meaning of some basic symbols and learnt that different regions paint in different styles, for example, dot and line paintings and of course, the tradition rarrk shared by generations of Kuninjku artists. I was excited to be able to put some of my new basic knowledge to the test, as were the boys.

Thankfully, children (and adults alike) visiting the MCA can get involved with Contemporary Kids (for a small cost) designed to immerse and connect them with the John Mawurndjul artwork. After a wonderful introduction talk, the boys were given a worksheet to complete whilst they walked around the exhibition. It made a huge difference to the way my 4 year old engaged with the artwork pieces. He had to look carefully to find the answers and he certainly loved doing so! We discovered kangaroos, long neck turtles, echidnas, fish and many more magical native animals. After completing the all the exercises, we moved into the craft room where my budding little artists were encouraged to design their own mobile masterpieces or as I like to call them, my new bedroom tszuj.

It’s worth noting at this point though, that Mawurndjul’s artwork is (obviously) extremely fragile and the MCA staff members are quite vigilant. May I suggest that, perhaps, if you have excitable small people with you, consider keeping them in the pram until after you have viewed the exhibition.

Almost three hours of checking out the exhibition and Contemporary Kids, who could resist a cuppa in famous café on the fourth floor? What a view! It has to be one of the best in Sydney. There was a large P&O cruise ship in dock which kept the boys fascinated as they scoffed down a Kids Pack ($14) which included a ham & cheese wrap, apple juice, a piece of fruit and a chocolate brownie.

The Details

  • The John Mawurndjul exhibition is located on level 3 of the MCA from 6 July – 23 September 2018. 
  • Contemporary Kids is open from Sunday 8 – Friday 13 July, 10:30am­­–4pm.
  • Click here to book your tickets online or buy on the day.


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