Warlpiri Drawings included on Memory of the World Register

Thursday, 9 February 2017 - 12:15pm
(L-R) David Jeffery, AIATSIS, Gerald Watson from Warnayaka Art Centre, Lajamanu and Professor Melinda Hinkson, Deakin University.
(L-R) David Jeffery, AIATSIS, Gerald Watson from Warnayaka Art Centre, Lajamanu and Professor Melinda Hinkson, Deakin University.

The collection of artworks known as the Warlpiri Drawings, held by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), was inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Australian Memory of the World Register in a ceremony in Canberra today.

View the inscription.

The UNESCO Australian Memory of the World honours documentary heritage of significance for Australia and the world, and advocates for its preservation.

The Warlpiri Drawings collection consists of 169 crayon drawings collected by noted anthropologist Mervyn Meggitt while undertaking fieldwork with Warlpiri people at Lajamanu (Hooker Creek) between 1953 and 1954. Meggitt encouraged men and women to make crayon drawings to assist his research into elements of Warlpiri society.

AIATSIS A/g CEO Craig Ritchie said the Institute was thrilled the drawings were being honoured through inclusion on the register.

'The malaka's (superintendent's) house', by Larry Jungarrayi, from The Warlpiri Drawings 1953-54, Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
'The malaka's (superintendent's) house', by Larry Jungarrayi, from The Warlpiri Drawings 1953-54, Meggitt Collection, AIATSIS

“The drawings are truly beautiful to behold, the vibrant colours making them stand alone as artworks, without even considering their value to the Warlpiri people, or their historical and anthropological value,” Mr Ritchie said.

“We are very proud the Warlpiri allow us to act as custodians of the artworks. UNESCO’s Australian Memory of the World Register recognises the value of the drawings to our nation and confirms their important place in the Australian story.”

The drawings’ historical significance lies in the unique way they document the relationship and obligations of the artists to their traditional country. They also predate by two decades the acrylic painting on canvas that emerged at Papunya in the early 1970s that began a revolution in modern Aboriginal art.

The collection of drawings, along with original photographs and accompanying audio material featuring Meggitt discussing the drawings, was deposited with AIATSIS in 1965 and officially donated by Meggitt's widow, Joan Meggitt, in 2013.

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Last reviewed: 9 Mar 2017