The Box is proud to announce the European premiere of the National Museum of Australia’s award-winning exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters from 21 October – 27 February 2022. The exhibition forms part of the UK/Australia Season 2021-22, a major programme of cultural exchange taking place across the two nations. The Box’s presentation of Songlines continues the museum’s track record of collaborating with First Peoples around the world and follows recent exhibitions co-curated with the Wampanoag of North America – Mayflower 400: Legend & Legacy as well as Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America.
Featuring over 300 paintings and objects by more than 100 artists, this is the first time the exhibition has been seen outside Australia. Originally staged at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra and touring to Perth’s Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip, the exhibition has attracted over 400,000 visitors to date. Entirely conceived and curated by a team of First Australians, led by Margo Neale, Senior Indigenous Curator at the NMA and custodial elders from across the Central and Western Deserts of Australia, it expertly combines state-of-the art exhibition and display technologies with art, song and dance in order to share ancient stories from the world’s oldest continuing culture.
As an important city in Britain’s naval history, Plymouth’s close ties with Australia go back centuries as a point of departure and mass migration from the UK. Songlines’ timely arrival at The Box comes as societies in the UK, Australia and across the world grasp the urgent need to reflect and embrace cultural diversity and re-evaluate our relationship with each other, our immediate environment, and the planet as a whole.
A world-first in scale and complexity, the exhibition was conceived with the ambition of preserving the Seven Sisters Dreaming stories – ancient creation sagas of the Australian continent – for future generations. The show provides an international platform for Indigenous voices to share Tjukurpa or Dreaming stories in new ways with contemporary artworks becoming portals to places in the deserts of the Martu, the Ngaanyatjarra and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) peoples.
Songlines takes visitors on an epic journey that traverses three states, three deserts and some 500,000 square kilometres. The highly immersive exhibition travels from west to east: from the Western Australian coast to the APY Lands in the east, using the power of contemporary art, performance and song to re-animate traditional stories, photography, multimedia and the world’s highest-resolution seven-metre-wide travelling dome. The ‘DomeLab‘ transports viewers to places deep in the desert relating to the Seven Sisters Songlines, including the remote Cave Hill site in South Australia – home to the only known Seven Sisters rock art in the world – as well as showing animated artworks and their relationship to the stars and constellations.
Songlines are a map of the land as well as a pathway for complex spiritual, cultural, political and historical truths or knowledges – and so much more. Songlines crisscross the land, creating a network of stories that ‘map’ the Australian continent by linking narratives to geographical features and serving as vehicles for naming and locating sites critical for survival physically and culturally. It is through Songlines that Aboriginal people can locate and learn from significant sites and pass on laws, ways of living, and moral codes to the next generation.
‘We have brought the song, story and paintings full of Tjukurpa, the creation spirit of the Seven Sisters, to put in our exhibition … so many other people can look, learn and increase their understanding,’ said Inawinytji Williamson, senior law woman and traditional owner of the Seven Sisters songline, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands, and spokesperson for the Community Curatorium who worked with the NMA to direct the representation of cultural material in the exhibition.
The Box’s showing of Songlines is part of the UK/Australia Season 2021–22, a joint initiative by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Through the theme ‘Who Are We Now?’, the Season will explore and reflect on the relationship between Australia and the UK across the arts, creative industries and higher education and will celebrate the diversity of cultures and languages in both countries. The Season will commence in September 2021, concluding in Australia in March 2022 and in the UK in December 2022. Songlines will then travel to the new Humboldt Forum in Berlin and Musée Quai Branly in Paris as well as proposed further venues across Europe, North America and Asia.
Margo Neale, Senior Indigenous Curator at the National Museum of Australia and lead curator of Songlines said: “For Aboriginal people, Songlines are our foundational stories about the creation of the Australian continent. This exhibition was initiated and co-curated by Indigenous communities who wanted to both preserve their culture for future generations and to share their stories with all Australians and the world — this is the model for future Museum-Indigenous community collaborations going forward.
“Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is not an art exhibition, a history exhibition or a science exhibition. It is all of these. It is both an Australian Aboriginal exhibition and a universal story of humankind. It offers us connectivity to each other and our planet in a fragmenting world. It is of critical importance that the deep truths and lessons in this exhibition are seen worldwide.”
Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands
“The Seven Sisters Tjukurpa, our Dreaming creation law, is very important to us, we hold it strongly and teach it to the generations that come after us. This Tjukurpa travels through many people’s country: the Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands. This really big Tjukurpa belongs to many people in the north, east, south, west and the centre. Many people tell this story in different languages. We have brought the song, story and paintings full of Tjukurpa, the creation spirit of the Seven Sisters, to put in our exhibition. We want to show this major creation story here so many other people can look, learn and increase their understanding. All people, white and black, can come and see and understand. And it’s for teaching all our children, our granddaughters and grandsons — to keep the culture strong. That is why we are making this exhibition so everyone can see and understand that our Tjukurpa law stands strong today.”
Inawinytji Williamson, Senior law woman and custodian of the Seven Sisters Songline at Kuli, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands
“With this big exhibition for the Seven Sisters, whitefellas will see it how we are doing paintings and will get learned from our storytelling. They will understand some of them stories of the sisters. They might feel that place. It will be interesting stories for them – by looking at it and listening and thinking. The Tjukurrpa teaches all the young ones, the kaparli [granddaughters] and all the kids. Our children and grandchildren, our daughters, they can learn from us or from family like Jennifer [Nginyaka Mitchell] or Angilyiya [Tjapiti Mitchell] … if the young ones are interested. This story is a really good one for the young ones to learn. That’s the story for them to get learned, look and they might like it and good for them to learn for the future.”
Anawari Inpiti Mitchell, Senior law woman and custodian of the Seven Sisters Songline at Kuru Ala, Ngaanyatjarra Lands
“[Seven Sisters] is not just one Songline – they travelled all around Australia. And even other people overseas know the Seven Sisters story in their own way, so it’s a special story. It’s not only happening here in Australia but it happened everywhere else. Teach them [young ones] to respect your beliefs that your grandmother, or sister, or whatever [family member has taught you]. Whatever they teaching you, you gotta teach them how to respect themselves and respect seniors. That’s what the younger people, you know when you tell them, they know you’re telling them and teaching them, to respect your knowledge.”
Ngalangka Nola Taylor, Senior law woman and translator for Martu people, in conversation with Kumpaya Girgirba.
Director of the National Museum of Australia, Dr Mathew Trinca said: “I am immensely proud of Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, which was the culmination of nearly seven years of collaboration between Indigenous communities and the National Museum. Nothing of this scale had been attempted before. It is significant that the first stop on our world tour of Songlines is at The Box in Plymouth, the city from where the UK and Australia relationship first began.”
Nigel Hurst, Contemporary Arts Consultant at The Box, said: “With ceramics, paintings, sculpture, installation and film by Aboriginal people, this award-winning, immersive exhibition from the National Museum of Australia will provide a unique platform for us to celebrate the arts and cultural life of First Australians, with points of connection linked to Australia’s and the UK’s shared successes and challenges over the last 250 years. Songlines will provide a wonderful and timely opportunity to bring the rich culture of First Australians to life for UK and Plymouth audiences, and acknowledge both our historic debt and the rich, complex societies that have emerged in the UK and Australia as a result of migration.”
Councillor Nick Kelly, Leader of Plymouth City Council said: “This exhibition comes at a time when we need the power of art and culture to connect us across time zones and international borders more than ever and so I’m thrilled that Plymouth can play such a key role in the UK-wide program for the UK/Australia Season 2021–22 by bringing this unique exhibition to the city.“
Councillor Tudor Evans, Shadow Leader said: “Australia is home to the world’s oldest continuing culture and so it’s wonderful to see The Box continuing its excellent work with the world’s First Peoples, following on from their colloborations with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee on the presentation of our Mayflower 400: Legend & Legacy and Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America exhibitions. I so look forward to learning more about Aborginal culture and stories this autumn.“