Scaled up in Paris

Friday 14 Jun 2013

Inauguration aboriginal artist Lena Nyadbi's musée du quai Branly roof piece complete

Just last week, the musée de qual Branly celebrated the opening of a permanent artwork on its rooftop by the artist Lena Nyaldbl. The aboriginal work has been painted on one section of the museum designed by Jean Nouvel in 2006. The aim of the gallery was to provide space in which the contemporary arts of Australia could be viewed and appreciated and since its opening it has been doing just that.

This addition to the permanent works has been made even more prominent by its sheer size and location, using a part of the building as the canvas. The work lies over the multimedia library, titled Dayiwul Lirlmim (Barramundi scales), it is composed of 172 stencils which each measure 3x1.5m.

The piece can be seen clearly from the Eiffel Tower which sits nearby. The artist Lena Nyabi began her career as an artist in 1998 and has made her mark as an aboriginal artist through her unique interpretations of traditional motifs which are all distinctive to her style.

Originally from Walmanjikulum in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, she is a member of the Glija people and the Barramundi scales which form this piece are linked directly to the territory of Lena Nyabi’s family. Lena’s work is predominantly characterised by symbolic references which are represented either in groups or on their own.

The recent piece features the ancestral barramundi Dayiwul, a fish of the perch species which she represents by its U-shaped scales. This is the second piece that Lena has been commissioned for by the museum, the first is entitled the jimbirla & gemerre. This piece is modeled on the wall of the museum on the rue de l’Université. Again the title, jimbirla (spearheads) & gemerre (scarifications) illustrate the symbolism within her artwork.

The Barramundi scales recounts the mythical story of three women who tried to catch the barramundi Dayiwul using a spinifex trap: "They pursue it to the head waters of the river but it still succeeds in escaping by jumping out of the trap and fleeing through the rocks. When it landed, its scales scattered across the earth at the current site of the mine."

Often within her work there is an emphasis on the resemblance between the scales of the fish and diamonds found within the mine. Alongside painted ceilings within the musée de qual Branly building, this piece completes the commission of the largest permanent installation of indigenous Australian contemporary art located outside Australia.

When the museum was designed, the architect Jean Nouvel was particularly focused on the overarching aim of bridging the gap between cultures and emphasising the vitality of contemporary non-Western art. As a result the artists use the museum as a canvas and as a result the pieces of art have been painted on the ceilings and facades.

Jessica Tang

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