MCA announces 2020 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander exhibitions and programs

MCA Vincent Namatjira, Albert Namatjira in Sydney - Yeah, 2014The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) has announced its 2020 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander exhibitions and programs embedding artists, culture and knowledge of the First Peoples of Australia throughout all parts of the organisation.

The MCA supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices through dedicated programming across exhibitions, public and learning programs, connecting audiences to the diversity and uniqueness of Australian Indigenous cultures.

“It is critical that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and communities are positioned to have significant representation, a considered response and voice this year given it is the 250th anniversary of Cook’s incursion onto the Eora Nation,” said MCA Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Exhibitions and Collections, Clothilde Bullen. “The MCA is located on a site of significant cultural and historical importance to the Gadigal peoples, so it feels particularly appropriate.”

The MCA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs start with International Mother Language Day on Friday 21 February, local Indigenous languages will be celebrated and used to communicate artworks within the MCA’s permanent Collection.

Presented as part of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney is aabaakwad 2020 NIRIN, the second iteration of Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) public conference aabaakwad (it clears after a storm). On 16 & 17 March to coincide with the opening of the Biennale, the MCA will host part of the four-day conference which is centred on informal, in-depth conversations between First Peoples artists, curators and scholars from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada.

aabaakwad was originally founded by Anishinaabe curator of Indigenous Art at the AGO, Wanda Nanibush, to encourage Indigenous-led discussions around the global shift towards First Peoples art. MCA guest speakers include notable Aboriginal artists and curators such as Vernon Ah Kee, Tony Albert, Richard Bell, MCA’s Clothilde Bullen, Karla Dickens and Gordon Hookey, as well as international guests, Theresa Alvez (Brazil), Heather Igloliorte (Inuit, Canada), and Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán (Mapuche, Chile) and Lisa Reihana (New Zealand).

Other public programs presented in conjunction with the Biennale of Sydney include: the NIRIN Edition of ARTBAR on Friday 29th May where several artists respond to themes of ceremony, ritual and tradition; NIRIN inspired GENEXT, a free festival-style art event for young people aged 12 – 18 years on Sunday 19 April; and Contemporary Kids: Biennale, the MCA’s popular school holiday program held between 15 – 18 April.

In May, an ambitious new work by Western Arrernte artist Vincent Namatjira will launch for the Museum’s next Circular Quay Foyer Wall Commission. Namatjira, a renowned painter from the community of Indulkana in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) region in South Australia working at Iwantja Arts Centre, will paint his signature-style caricature portraits of influential Aboriginal figures, creating his largest-scale work to date. Namatjira’s commission will be the seventh iteration of the Circular Quay Foyer Wall Commission, this project continues to be supported by Veolia.

NAIDOC week programming returns from 6 – 10 July, throughout the week the MCA will screen four films by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander filmmakers and host a one-off panel discussion with guests responding to the theme: Always Was, Always Will Be.

In November, the MCA’s flagship exhibition for artists 35 years and under Primavera 2020 opens. This year’s exhibition is curated by Melbourne-based Aboriginal curator Hannah Presley – who is currently the curator of Indigenous art at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Her previous curatorial roles include the inaugural Yalingwa curator at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in 2018 and First Nations Assistant Curator for Tracey Moffatt at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. Presley will curate a cross-section of exciting young Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists for the 29th edition of the Primavera.

Also in November is the final ARTBAR for the year curated by an Indigenous band Stiff Gins featuring Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs. Kaleena is from the Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta people and Nardi is from the Yuwaalaraay people, these two women will program an evening centred around music and performance on Friday 29th November.

“The MCA has always had a strong commitment to promoting the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists – their work makes a unique contribution to our culture,” said MCA Director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE. “We not only exhibit artists, but we aim to embed First Peoples perspectives in all our activities.”

In 2015, the Museum developed an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy in consultation with the MCA Indigenous Advisory Group. At the time, the MCA was the first major cultural institution to set out quantifiable targets in this area and this remains a living document.

The MCA has continued to build on this policy working with Indigenous staff, artists and communities to connect and engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in authentic and mutually beneficial ways. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Vincent Namatjira, Albert Namatjira in Sydney – Yeah, 2014 (detail), acrylic on canvas – courtesy of the artist and Iwantja Arts