Indigenous Australians maintain the oldest continuously surviving culture on the face on the Earth, and art is a key element of this millennia-old cultural identity. Check out eight places in Sydney where you can learn more about Aboriginal art.
First opening its doors way back in 1981, this isn’t just Australia’s oldest exhibiting Aboriginal art gallery – it’s also one of its best. Visit the two locations in Bondi Beach and Oxford St in Paddington to browse the carefully curated stockroom boasting more than 3,000 pieces of art. Cooee has represented a number of trailblazing Indigenous artists – Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Abie Jangala and Kathleen Petyarre to name a few – and continues to bring the country’s finest Aboriginal artworks to Sydney audiences today.
This collaborative of family-run galleries showcases Indigenous art in locations that are almost as beautiful as the pieces themselves, with galleries in iconic Sydney locations such as the Opera Quays and the Queen Victoria Building. Aboriginal Art Galleries has been in the business for almost three decades, showcasing artwork everywhere from the United States to Japan, and taking care to only work with independent artists and ethical private dealers.
Indigenous art is sometimes pigeonholed as something totally different to the European-Australian style of painting, but these dual Sydney galleries seek to bridge that gap. With two inner-city locations at the Sofitel Wentworth and 1 Martin Place, the Wentworth Galleries pride themselves on displaying the best Australian artists regardless of genre or reputation, hanging contemporary Indigenous artworks alongside modern Western pieces.
Formerly known as The Gallery Shop, this treasure trove of Indigenous creations has forged a reputation as one of Sydney’s top Aboriginal art galleries. Owner Nichola Dare scours remote Indigenous communities to handpick pieces by both emerging and established artists. Aboriginal Contemporary also maintains an extensive online collection that complements the gallery in Bronte in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
The Rocks was one of the first places the British colonised when they arrived on the continent in the late 18th century, but the historic precinct is now home to several Aboriginal art galleries, including this excellent one. Spirit Gallery first opened in 2002 as a small gift shop but has expanded over the past 16 years, selling a wide range of Indigenous arts and crafts including boomerangs, didgeridoos, ceramics, carvings, weavings and canvas paintings, helping to support local artists.
Situated smack bang in the middle of the Harbour City, this York St gallery promises ‘paintings that enrich your life beyond the day to day affairs’. Check out the 300-square-metre space right near Wynyard station to peruse the extensive collection of paintings, pottery, didgeridoos, boomerangs and other artworks by artists including Jeannie Petyarre, Walangkurra Napanangka and Thomas Tjapaltjarri.
This isn’t an Indigenous art gallery per se, but Sydney’s most important art gallery does celebrate the culture of Australia’s First Peoples with an extensive range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pieces, made up of thousands of items sourced from every corner of the country. The collection spans 19th-century paintings by Tommy McRae right up to contemporary new media expressions of ‘blak city culture’.
One of the country’s premier modern art museums proves that the world’s oldest continuously surviving culture has a very active presence in the modern art scene. Located within a gorgeous Art Deco building in Circular Quay, the MCA permanently displays works by eminent Aboriginal artists such as Nicole Foreshew, Mabel Juli, Barayuwa Mununggurr and Vernon Ah Kee, and also includes temporary exhibitions and learning programs with school students.