Songlines: Tracking Seven Sisters

Groundbreaking exhibition showcases sweeping Seven Sisters creation saga

An ancient creation saga featuring a dramatic chase across the Australian deserts is at the heart of the groundbreaking exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, which opens with the new WA Museum Boola Bardip in Perth on 21 November 2020.

It is the first major temporary exhibition to go on show at the WA Museum Boola Bardip.

A world first in scale and complexity, Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters showcases sections of five Indigenous Western and Central Desert songlines, utilising more than 300 paintings and objects, as well as song, dance, photography and multimedia, to narrate the story of the Seven Sisters as they traverse the continent from west to east, through three states and across 500,000 square kilometres of desert country.

The exhibition features the world’s highest resolution, six-metre-wide, travelling DomeLab under which visitors will be immersed. It will feature images of Seven Sisters rock art from the remote Cave Hill site in South Australia, as well as animated art works, the transit of the Orion constellation and the Pleiades star cluster. Standing beneath the domed ceiling visitors will be transported to sites relating to the Seven Sisters songlines.

By following the trail of stunning art and installations through the exhibition, visitors will effectively ‘walk’ the songlines. These are both complex spiritual pathways and vehicles for naming and locating waterholes and food sources, critical for survival in the desert.

The project that led to the exhibition was initiated by Aboriginal Elders who set out to preserve the Seven Sisters stories for future generations and to promote understanding of songlines more broadly.

‘I am immensely proud of Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, which was the culmination of more than five years of collaboration between Indigenous communities and the National Museum. Nothing of this scale had been attempted before,’ said National Museum director, Dr Mathew Trinca.

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters traverses three Indigenous lands — those of the APY (Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara), the Ngaanyatjarra and the Martu.

‘Songlines is a cross-cultural term, a passport to the deep knowledge embedded in the land which we now all share. They are our foundational stories about the creation of this continent and critical to the sense of belonging for all Australians,’ said National Museum lead Indigenous curator, Margo Neale.

‘We are thrilled that this exhibition which drew record crowds in Canberra will now be seen in Perth,’ said Ms Neale.

Western Australian Museum CEO Alec Coles welcomes Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters to Western Australia as part of an ongoing relationship with the National Museum of Australia that is now in its fifth year.

‘We are delighted that this Aboriginal-led exhibition, Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, is the WA Museum Boola Bardip’s first major temporary exhibition,’ Mr Coles said.

‘The Seven Sisters creation stories are central to the lives and cultural traditions of so many of Australia’s first peoples. It is so appropriate that the narrative of Songlines begins here in WA and crosses Marta and Ngaanyatjarra lands before reaching the APY lands in South Australia.’

‘These stories are also woven throughout the new permanent exhibitions in the Museum, so there is a wonderful connection and journey for all visitors.’

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters portrays the drama of creation, desire, flight and survival by telling the story of a journey made by a group of female Ancestral Beings who are pursued by a powerful, mythological, shape-shifting figure.

Since 2012, Museum curators — led by an Indigenous Community Curatorium — have gone on-Country to track the Seven Sisters songlines. Along the way, Indigenous cultural custodians of the stories have produced art works that tell their aspects of the tale. Many of these pieces have become part of the Museum’s National Historical Collection.

As a result of this project, research material collected by National Museum curators has been provided for inclusion in the Aboriginal-managed digital archive Aṟa Irititja, in Alice Springs.

As part of the WA Museum’s partnership with the National Museum, a stunning collection of artworks from Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route will also be displayed in the WA Museum Boola Bardip.

‘These beautiful paintings from the Canning Stock Route Collection, created by Aboriginal people working with creative agency FORM, share the story of the Stock Route’s impact, and the importance of the Country around it, expressed through Aboriginal voices and interpreted through Aboriginal peoples’ eyes,’ Mr Coles said.

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters received the Best in Show award at the 2018 Museums and Galleries National Awards.

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