the past in the present

16 Oct –
28 Nov 2021

This exhibition presents a selection of Indigenous works commissioned by the Gallery for a major exhibition of the same name.

The major exhibition extended the Gallery’s research interest in contemporary art practices within the Asia Pacific region and the world’s tropic zone. The research explored the many complex narratives, histories, traditions, beliefs and issues which inform art produced by contemporary artists in Queensland 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, was investigated through artworks that engaged 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, the works in the major exhibition responded to the practice, processes and performative nature of rituals and unpacked the politics and complex histories that are embedded within ritual practices. 

The works responded to three main themes - life cycles, healing and renewal, and spiritual practices. Together these themes encompassed 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 investigated 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.


Exhibition Catalogue
Purchase online



Collection Spotlight: Brian Robinson

Artist Video: Simone Arnol



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.