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Biggest show of Indigenous art to hit Asia

A major exhibition of Australian First Nations art is set to open in Singapore, the largest show of its kind to go on tour in Asia.

Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia at the National Gallery Singapore features more than 150 works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

“These are our stories, this is how we want to tell them and show our art and culture,” NGA curator Tina Baum told reporters.

“To give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and art workers agency to be able to tell our stories our way is really quite powerful,” the Gulumirrgin/Larrakia/Wardaman/Karajarri woman said.

The show opens with a colourful map of Australia by Daniel Boyd, which marks out some of the more than 300 language groups of the world’s oldest living culture.

But the oil painting is labelled Treasure Island, reminding viewers of Australia’s colonial history and the exploitation of its land.

Taking up about a third of the floor space of the gallery, Ever Present features important works by influential artists such as Albert Namatjira and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

It looks at the development of Indigenous art through six themed sections spanning ancestors, country, family, ceremony and trade.

The last section, titled Resistance and Colonisation, features some of the most unsettling works in the show, including an installation by Trawlwoolway artist Julie Gough that records the names of Aboriginal children living with colonists in the 19th century on wooden spears.

The show is a chance for Indigenous artists to make a big impact globally, the artist told AAP.

“It’s a pretty big honour to be in this exhibition because it’s from the whole continent … between us we are showing various aspects of our people today and in the past,” she said.

About half of the collection is drawn from the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, and half from the extensive Wesfarmers Arts corporate collection.

The opening on Friday marks Reconciliation Week, and the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, when Australians voted to change the constitution to recognise Aboriginal people as part of the population.

“It’s a time that allows us all to think about our shared histories and cultures … and do what we can to achieve reconciliation, to close the gap that still exists in Australia,” Wesfarmers Chairman Michael Chaney told reporters.

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