12 July 2006

Quai to the Kingdom

TEARS flowed freely at last week’s press preview of the landmark Aboriginal art commission at the Musée du Quai Branly, the new museum in the heart of Paris dedicated to non-western art. Surrounded by the media and basking under the artwork that has colonised the ceiling of one wing of the complex, East Arnhem Land artist Gulumbu Yunupingu broke down as she contemplated the moment. “I can’t believe I am here in Paris, underneath this, my gift to you. My painting brings us together and brings us healing; I am proud that you people here in Paris recognise my painting ... We standing here together. We are standing here strong.”

It was a cathartic moment at the end of a four-year journey that began when French President Jacques Chirac personally petitioned Prime Minister John Howard to join in his pet project on the Seine: a museum, a paean to the diversity and creativity of the world’s people, a project that could not be complete, implored Chirac, without a cultural contribution from Australia’s first people.