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ART & Archives

The Art & Archives Library Funds provides financial supports for the Sydney High Na Ngara Art Gallery collection and supports the maintenance of the library and archives. The Na Ngara gallery includes multiple Archibald Prize winning artists and not only helps educate High students, but serves as a valuable asset for the Sydney High School Foundation for future generations of High boys

Na Ngara is a school-based teaching and learning, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection comprising forty artworks. The gallery was officially launched on 29 May 2017 by the Secretary of Education, Mr Mark Scott. The works are on permanent display and will be accompanied by education kits for teachers and students. Teachers are invited to bring small groups of students to visit Na Ngara and professional development opportunities for teachers are being considered.

"This collection of Australian Indigenous art is entitled Na Ngara, which means "listen, think and learn" in the Darug language. As a way of learning and teaching about Indigenous life -- that which is truly unique about Australia -- the art displayed here offers a remarkable opportunity. For each work is a door to an epic struggle of people and culture in our midst. Congratulations to my old school for this enlightened initiative. It is, of course, just the beginning of listening, thinking and learning." 
John Pilger, 2017

The Na Ngara team comprises Paul Harapin (SHS Foundation), Christine Godden (Indigenous Consultant), Simon Chan (Gallery Consultant), Claire Reemst, Jennifer May, Lynnea Stewart and Eliana Apostilides (SBHS). Further research, educational materials, and consultancy have been provided by Tess Allas, Dr. Vivien Johnson, Dennis Golding and Jessica Leffley.

Dr. Vivien Johnson FAHA is writer and sociologist who has been researching Aboriginal art, especially Western Desert art, since the late 1970s. She has curated several exhibitions, and during the 1990s she became involved in the copyright and cultural integrity issues arising from Aboriginal art's phenomenal critical and commercial success.



Murray Cod, 2010 (plant fiber and rag paper 2/5), 700 x 1800 mm


Dr. Vivien Johnson's introductory essay to the collection:
“All Aboriginal art is political, because it is a statement of cultural survival” – so said Gary Foley, activist and first Aboriginal Director of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, in 1984. A generation and a half later, his words still ring true, despite dramatic changes in the production and consumption of Indigenous art over this period. The many and varied representations of cultural identity now spanning the entire continent that constitute the contemporary Indigenous art movement all defy the odds and the difficult and sometimes desperate circumstances of their creators to express the vibrancy and the power of the cultures and peoples from which they derive.

Defiance is an obvious theme of many of the 24 works making up the Sydney Boys High School Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teaching and Learning Art Collection. Circle, Trapezoid: the banal formalist titles of Tony Albert’s delicate acquatint etchings of ash trays with cartoon-character images of ‘traditional’ Aboriginal life, complete with cigarettes ready to be disrespectfully stubbed out onto them, actually focus our attention on the affront of these popular 1950s pieces of Aboriginalia.



Bright Eyed Little Dormitory Girls – Sack 1, 2014, Etching and aquatint, 300 x 215 mm


Vincent Namatjira’s is also a story of return and reconciliation: with his illustrious grandfather’s community of Hermannsburg (Ntaria). In Indulkana Tigers, he celebrates the cult of football as an integral part of remote Indigenous culture, challenging our perceptions of these communities, where the closeness of country makes maintenance of aspects of a traditional – albeit severely modified – lifestyle possible. It is tempting to look upon the other works in this collection - those of Tiwi artist Margaret Renee Kerinauia, Yirrkala bark painters Manurrapin Maymuru and Bandina Gumana, and desert painters Paddy Japaljarri Stewart, Neville Poulson, Pirrmangka Reid Napanangka, Minnie Pwerle, Ginger Wikilyiri, Karen Barnes, Lorna Brown Napanangka and the unnamed women who produced Karnta Jukurrpa, simply as “traditional works”, drawing as they do on traditional visual languages and Dreaming stories. But these works are also contemporary – and not just in the obvious sense that their production is contemporaneous with their non-remote peers’ (including the so-called ‘urban’ Indigenous artists we have considered).



Indulkana Tigers, 2015, Multiple plate etching, 320 x 500 mm

No-one expected a powerful contemporary Indigenous art movement to emerge in the final decades of the 20th century and transform not only Australian Art but mainstream Australia’s understanding and appreciation of the world’s oldest living culture. But that is precisely what Aboriginal art has accomplished. Hence the relevance of this collection, not only to your studies in this place – of Geography, History, Religion, Science and Literature as well as the Visual Arts, but also to your lives as residents and citizens of this country.

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Sydney High School Old Boys UnionGPO Box 3162Sydney NSW 2001

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