Works included in this catalogue
Barak Untitled [Aboriginal ceremony] {1895} SLV [PA]
Barak Untitled [Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu] {1895} SLV [PA]

A senior member of the Wurundjeri people, based north of central Melbourne, Barak was also a painter, two of whose images of Aboriginal ceremonies (modified for non-indigenous audiences) were donated to the Melbourne collection by local artist John Mather in 1895.

Neither work was listed in the 1905 NGV catalogue, and it seems likely that they were initially regarded as belonging to the ethnographic collections of the museum. A third related work by Barak in the SLV, an untitled dancing scene on paper mounted on cloth (H3725), may have entered the collection at the same time, but this is unclear.

The two paintings catalogued here were almost certainly the two “scenes of aboriginal life” by Barak included in the Primitive Art exhibition staged jointly by the NGV and the Museum of Victoria in 1943. Both works have also been shown together at various times since, notably in the “Remembering Barak” exhibition at the SLV in 2003, where they appeared alongside some 50 other paintings and works on paper by the artist, drawn from a number of collections  (including the NGV, which owns seven further works, acquired between 1962 and 2001).

In 2012, the NGV staged an elaborate tribute to Barak as part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the gallery, titled “The Felton Commissions (The Barak Project).” This comprised major acquisitions of traditional and contemporary works by a range of Aboriginal artists, and an installation by contemporary artists Vernon Ah Kee, Brook Andrew and Jonathan Jones. A thoughtful analysis by Kelly Gellatly (published at the time in the NGV’s Art Journal) acknowledged the complexities of the broader issues involved.

See also Fuller Barak 1885 {1901} SLV [PA], with further details on the artist. Once again this work, not included in NGV 1905, appears to have been regarded as part of the Ethnographic collection of the Melbourne Museum (not the NGV).


For the two works catalogued here, see SLV catalogue. See also Lindy Allen, “The Early Collection and Exhibition of Art Work by Aboriginal Artists,” A History of Museum Victoria (, accessed 26/5/2016, page 2), for Mather’s 1895 donation; Leonhard Adam (intro.), Primitive Art Exhibition, National Gallery & National Museum of Victoria, 1943, p.11, (describing the works as “painted on European cardboard”); and Judith Ryan & others, Remembering Barak, NGV, 2003 (, esp.pp.40-41 (dating both works to c.1885). For Barak, see also AKL 6 (1992), p.614

See also Kelly Gellatly, “When the wattles bloom again: The Barak Project,” Art Journal of Victoria 51 (2012): available online as For the untitled dancing scene by Barak (SLV H3725), see; and for the works now in the NGV, see