Past Legacy: Present Tense looks at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from city and bush studios who have made their mark by reinterpreting and transforming semiotic signs and customary objects of another time and place into something daringly different and modern. Contemporary Indigenous artists make intercultural works in organic and new media that memorialise and interrogate history, honour customary practices and forms of material culture, and reference systems of shared signs and symbols in innovative ways.

The exhibition begins with the visionary paintings of Tiger Palpatja, one of the great colourists of the 21st century and concludes with works of materiality and expansiveness by outstanding artists of the East Kimberley and Great Sandy Deserts of Western Australia.

In between these rooms that affirm the artists’ attachment to the specificity of place and their powers of invention, the exhibition unpacks a selection of paintings and sculptures from the Torres Strait and Far North Queensland, which includes the Gallery’s newly acquired pack of Aurukun dogs and Jimmy Thaiday’s haunting flock of black frigate birds. It also explores the way Aboriginal artists remember and re-enact customary ritual in painting, printmaking and sculpture and memorable work of photographers Ricky Maynard, Michael Cook and Robert Fielding.