Situated on the grounds of a heritage-listed homestead rooted in artistic and architectural significance, Ngununggula (which translates to “belonging” in the traditional language of the Gundungurra First Nations people) is the NSW Southern Highland’s first regional art gallery.
Designed by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, the modern space features four immersive exhibition areas, housed within a heritage-sensitive, climate-controlled structure. Ngununggula is also home to Hearth, an organic farm-to-café collaboration with MoonAcres Kitchen, which is surrounded by lush, landscaped gardens. Drawing upon his experience growing up in North-Western Sydney, founder Ben Quilty’s vision for the site is one of cultural and artistic accessibility. “My community then had no experience, no access and very little appreciation for arts and culture. The pathway for me to then walk into a career in the arts was almost impossible,” he explains. “I just didn’t want any kids in my town facing that challenge. I want all kids to have the opportunity to dream and aspire to great cultural things, right in amongst their own community.”
Under the leadership of director Megan Monte, the gallery hopes to cement its mark within the region through a vibrant curatorial program and a community-minded emphasis. “We want to highlight the rich territory of arts and culture locally, while bringing some of the most exciting artists to the area,” Monte says. “From curated exhibitions, newly commissioned artworks, nationally significant touring programs to education, accessible public programs and live events, Ngununggula’s program offers an art experience for everyone.”
Kicking off with Tamara Dean’s inaugural exhibition “High Jinks in the Hydrangeas”, the gallery’s ambitious all-female programme will celebrate some of Australia’s most spectacular artists, including Abdul Abdullah, Rosie Dean, and Fiona Foley. Exploring themes of culture, knowledge and introspectively, the dynamic line up is curated to inspire curiosity and allow visitors to share in the collective narratives of artists. “Our programme is about storytelling, sharing experiences and understanding perspectives with a sense of scale and ambition,” says Monte.
With a commitment to celebrating Gundungurra language and culture, the gallery’s Entry Pavilion is dedicated to housing the works of commissioned Indigenous artists on a rotating basis. A large-scale installation by Megan Cope will be the first to occupy this space, created in collaboration with local elders and the Southern Highlands Indigenous community.
As a reflection of the richly diverse creative and cultural fabric of the Southern Highlands, Quilty envisions Ngununggula as the artistic destination of the region. “Ngununggula will be a cultural hub for residents and visitors of all ages across the entire Highlands community,” he says. “The gallery will bring back life to old buildings and create new and exciting spaces to present some of the most important artworks of our time.”