Australian Embassy

Media release - 08/12/2020

Yuendumu doors to be introduced for the first time in Vietnam

The Yuendumu Doors exhibition, which introduces one of the most important cultural and artistic collections in Australia, will be open from 8 December 2020 to 31 January 2021 at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Following the Canning Stock Route and the Evolution: Torres Strait Masks displays in 2016 and 2018, this exhibition will continue to bring Australia’s unique Indigenous culture to a Vietnamese audience and deepen the people-to-people link between the two countries.

The exhibition features 15 of the 30 doors painted by Warlpiri elders at the Yuendumu community school. They represent Warlpiri people’s very first experiment with acrylic paint – a western art medium – to detail their daily lives and their Dreaming – the Aboriginal belief system about the creation of the world. Each door is not only a masterpiece but also an invaluable repository of Warlpiri knowledge and history.

Australia is home to one of the world's oldest living cultures, with Aboriginal communities established nearly 60,000 years before European settlement. Among the Aboriginal communities living in Central Australia for many thousands of years, the Warlpiri people are one of the largest groups. For much of Warlpiri history, their Dreaming was drawn on the sand, and then erased by desert winds. Though these stories were passed down through generations, Warlpiri people had no sustainable way of preserving their unique art for future generations. In the early 1980s, Warlpiri people decided they needed a way to restore their ancestral tradition and cultural values for younger generations and share them with the world beyond the desert. To realise this mission, in 1984, a group of Warlpiri elders were invited to paint their Dreaming onto the classroom doors at Yuendumu community school. Thirty doors were painted in total, with unique patterns demonstrating different Dreaming stories, teaching generations of Yuendumu children about Warlpiri land, ancestry and culture. These paintings also marked the beginning of Warlpiri contemporary art, with the beauty of Aboriginal cultural art presented to the broader public in a western art medium using bright color palettes.

HE Ms Robyn Mudie, Australian Ambassador to Vietnam said: “I am very proud to present the Yuendumu doors for the first time in Vietnam through this exhibition. This collection demonstrates not only a valuable part of Australia’s unique Indigenous culture – one of the world oldest living cultures – but also demonstrates how cultural heritage can be passed down through generations. We are pleased to continue working with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology to showcase Australia’s Indigenous culture to a Vietnamese audience and deepen the understanding between our two countries.”

Dr Dang Xuan Thanh, Vice President of Vietnam Academy of Social Science, Director of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology said: “This is the third time the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology has collaborated with the Australian Embassy to host Aboriginal exhibitions. Following the Canning Stock Route and the Evolution: Torres Strait Masks displays in 2016 and 2018, the Yuendumu Doors exhibition continues to introduce Australia’s unique Indigenous culture to Vietnamese audience and deepen the two countries’ relationship. With this exhibition, we would like the public to have the opportunity to understand some of the traditions of Australian Aboriginal people, appreciate the traditional values of our ancestors and contribute to preserving and enhancing the values of cultural heritage in the context of global integration.”

This international touring exhibition was developed by the South Australian Museum in partnership with the National Museum of Australia and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The South Australian Museum is where the actual doors are now conserved and displayed, after surviving the desert wind and sun for 12 years at Yuendumu school.