British Museum

Colours of… Indigenous Art

Today we take a sideways, chromatic look at two exhibitions on opposite sides of the Atlantic that are currently examining the art, culture and experience of two indigenous cultures from two very different continents.

British Museum

Above: Pukara, Roy Underwood, Lennard Walker, Simon Hogan and Ian Rictor, Acrylic on canvas, Western Australia, 2013.
© the artists, courtesy Spinifex Arts Project

The new exhibition Indigenous Australia at The British Museum and The Plains Indians at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York both feature art from the indigenous people of Australia and North America respectively. Both exhibitions present the artistic legacies of these cultures up until the present day, featuring not just works from the beginnings of these ancient societies but also work created in the 20th century by Aboriginal and Native American artists. Both cultures drew heavily on the natural world, not just for the distinctive pigments and materials in the work, but also harnessing the spiritual and symbolic power of the landscape around them. Below we take two pieces from each exhibition and take a look at the earthy, organic colours at their heart.

British Museum

Above left: Shield with Buffalo Bull and Thunderbird, 1800-1825, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (71765). Swatches: Print Room Yellow, James White, Pitch Black. Above Right: Pearl shell pendant with dancing figures. Kimberley region, Western Australia, before 1926. © The Trustees of the British Museum

British Museum

Above: Detail from Yumari, Uta Uta Tjangala, 1981. Photograph: National Museum of Australia. Swatches: Incarnadine, Red Earth, London Clay, Charlotte’s Locks

British Museum

Above: Parfleche Envelope, ca. 1865, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (67468). Swatches: Stone Blue, Archive, India Yellow, Pitch Black

Indigenous Australia runs at The British Museum until 2 August 2015.

The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky runs until 10 May at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

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