the past in the present

15 May –
21 Aug 2021

Ritual: the past in the present extends the Gallery’s research interest in contemporary art practices that explore narratives around issues of Australian Indigenous and global black identity in the world’s tropic zone.

This research explores the many complex narratives, histories, traditions, beliefs and issues which inform art produced by contemporary artists in Australia and other cultures in these regions.

The defining characteristic of ritual, as a recurrent act based on the concept of passage and transformation to bring the past into the present, is investigated through artworks that engage with social, divinatory and cyclical rituals. Like history, rituals are complex and can be framed around different ways of perceiving and interpreting reality, imagination, hearsay and fact.  

Specifically, works in this exhibition explore relationships between contemporary Australian Indigenous art and ritual within the global context of transcultural ritual practices in the Asia Pacific region. Together they respond to the practice, processes and performative nature of rituals and unpack the politics and complex histories that are embedded within ritual practices.

The exhibition broadly comprises works that respond to three main themes - life cycles, healing and renewal, and spiritual practices. Together these themes encompass traditional child naming rituals, initiation, marriage, death and funeral ceremonies, healing rituals and the medicinal use of natural materials, body adornment, scarification, song, dance, drumming, repetitive writing and intoning. They also investigate different ways of making sacrificial and other offerings as an act of celebration and contrition, as well as connectivity and communication with ancestral beings and spirits who continue to guide and shape the world of the present.

From the outset, artists selected for Ritual embraced the exhibition concept, and welcomed the opportunity to complete newly commissioned works, or to make existing works available for the exhibition. The exhibition was originally planned for 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gallery extends its appreciation to all the artists and lenders for their understanding and willingness to accommodate the delay to its presentation.


Simone Arnol
Elisa Jane Carmichael
Janet Fieldhouse
Carl Fourmile
Dale Harding 
Naomi Hobson 
Heather Wunjarra Koowootha
Peggy Kasabad Lane
Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan Jnr 

Grace Lillian Lee
Hayley Matthew
Stephen George Page AO 
Alair Pamgeban
Brian Robinson
Joel Sam
Bernard Singleton Jnr
Dr Christian Thompson AO

Abdul Abdullah
Trina Lealavaa
Taloi Havini
Vilimone Baleilevuka Mataiwai
Phuong Ngo
Chan-Kyong Park
Tabuadrau Ratabua

Koji Ryui
Greg Semu
Adi Vuya Talemaikadavu
Angela Tiatia
Michael Toisuta
Charwei Tsai
Unknown artists






Selected Works


Installation images


Presented in partnership with Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) 


RITUAL: the past in the present, North Australian and Asia Pacific Art presented in partnership with Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) 2021.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
This project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.
The Regional Arts Development Fund is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Cairns Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.


The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.