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Aboriginal art on display on Paris roof

3 min

A massive version of a piece by Australian aboriginal artist Lena Nyadbi went on display Thursday on the roof of the library at the Musée du Quai Branly. The work, which represents three women trying to catch a fish, is visible from the Eiffel Tower.


Move over Mona Lisa! Paris is about to unveil a new work of art that, just like Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, will be seen by millions of visitors every year.

From Thursday, a massively enlarged version of a work by Australian Aboriginal artist Lena Nyadbi will adorn the roof of the multimedia library at the French capital's Musee du Quai Branly on the banks of the Seine.

Created by stencils and with the same kind of rubberised paint used for traffic signs, the 700-square-metre (7,500 sq. ft) installation has been designed to be visible from several different levels of the nearby Eiffel Tower, which draws in around seven million visitors every year.

The enlarged version of Dayiwul Lirlmim (Barramundi Scales), a black and white abstract work, is 46 times bigger than the ochre and charcoal original created by Nyadbi.

The piece is a visual representation of a dreaming story from the Gija people of Western Australia in which three women try to catch a barramundi.

The fish escapes them but, in the process, it scatters its scales across the territory of the Gija in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.

In Aboriginal culture, dreaming stories often provide an account of creation. In the case of the Dayiwul Lirlmim, the scattered scales explain the presence of diamonds in an area that is now home to the world's largest diamond mine.

Opened in 2006, the Quai Branly museum showcases non-European art and houses more than 3,000 pieces and artefacts from Oceania, including hundreds of Aboriginal weapons, boomerangs, tools and sculptures.

The museum recently hosted an exhibition of the largest collection of modern Aboriginal paintings to have gone on display outside of Australia.

"The Sources of Aborigine Painting", was a major hit, drawing 133,716 visitors over the course of three months in which Paris was also hosting blockbuster collections of the works of Edward Hopper and Salvador Dali.

Nyadbi's work is already a permanent fixture in the museum as she created a mural, Jimbirla and Gemerre (spearheads and scarifications) that adorns one of the external walls, which can be seen from the capital's Rue de l'Universite.

Works by seven other Australian Aboriginal artists are featured on ceilings throughout the museum.

The popularity of these works inspired the museum to think about what it could do with the roof, which the building's acclaimed architect, Jean Nouvel, was reluctant to leave as a dull, monotone grey.

Now in her late 70s, Nyadbi is expected to attend Thursday's inauguration of her rooftop work and a parallel exhibition of eight Gija artists which will be on display at the nearby Australian embassy.

The trip to Paris represents the latest stage in a remarkable life journey for a woman who worked on cattle farms before starting her career as an artist under the auspices of the Warmun Art Centre.


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