June 2013 – a new Aboriginal artwork commissioned for the roof of Jean Nouvel’s Musée du quai Branly in Paris was installed as a feature of its 750-sq.metre roof terrace. The work by Australian artist Lena Nyadbi is integral to the museum’s vision to incorporate non-European indigenous art into the fabric of the building, and to showcase this element of the museum’s collection. It will be visible to the seven million visitors per annum who pay €8.50 to climb the Eiffel Tower on the right bank of the River Seine, or for free by Google Earth users.
The rooftop installation is rendered from a black-and-white painting by Lena Nyadbi, from East Kimberley, Australia, which depicts a sequence of white scales that undulate against a black background. The image is derived from a tale known for 1,000 years in Nyadbi’s Gija country, of how diamonds appeared in the rugged red landscape of the Barramundi Gap in Kimberley. According to the legend, three women were fishing for barramundi when one fish eluded the net and escaped through a gap in the rock, shedding its scales in the process, which turned into glittering diamonds. It was made using 172 stencils of 3 x 1.5 metres, enlarged 46 times from the original. It was donated to the museum by Australian businessman Harold Mitchell, who funded the $500,000 project in partnership with the French government and the Australia Council.
It is the latest artwork by indigenous artists commissioned for the building. When it opened in 2006, Jean Nouvel’s intention was to create art within the architectural design of the museum. Australian Aboriginal art installations were installed on the ceilings and the building façade to the street on the rue de l’Université by eight artists belonging to different communities and cultures: four women – Lena Nyadbi, Judy Watson, Gulumbu Yunupingu , Ningura Napurrula – and four men – John Mawurndjul, Nyunkuny Paddy Bedford, Michael Riley, Tommy Watson.
Lena Nyadbi started painting full time from 1998, after learning from watching the well known Warnum artists, such as Paddy Jaminji. Lena uses natural ochre and pigments to create her rich and gritty surfaces. The source and subject of Lena’s work is the Ngarrangkarni (Dreaming) of the Jimbala (Spearheads) country of her family. It is sharp, stony country, where the stones were attached to Karlumburi (Spears). In 2000, Lena’s work featured in the Adelaide Biennial exhibition Beyond the Pale.
Lena Nyadbi, Dayiwul Lirlmim (Barramundi scales). Natural ochre and charcoal on linen, 2012 © Lena Nyadbi, represented by Warmun Art Centre, Western Australia.
Dayiwul Lirlmim (Barrumindi scales). Rooftop Art Adaptation, Musée du quai Branly, 2013. © musée du quai Branly, photo: Cyril Zannettacci
Tommy Watson, Wipu Rockhole, 2005. Bâtiment Université du musée du quai Branly, 5ème étage © musée du quai Branly, photo Antonin Borgeaud
Musée du quai Branly, 37 Quai Branly, 75007 Paris