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Kluge-Ruhe reopens with two new exhibitions

After months of virtual activity only, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection reopens for in-person visits

<p>The centerpiece of "From Little Things Big Things Grow" is a collaboration from 13 women artists entitled Nganampa Ngura, Our Country 2013.&nbsp;</p>

The centerpiece of "From Little Things Big Things Grow" is a collaboration from 13 women artists entitled Nganampa Ngura, Our Country 2013. 

On Aug. 26, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University re-opened its doors to visitors after closing March 14 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The Kluge-Ruhe is displaying two exhibitions which are available to visit by reservation only. 

“We encourage U.Va. students to visit,” said Education and Program Manager Lauren Maupin. “Our two new exhibitions are stunning and address themes of social justice, land rights, cultural continuity, memorialization and innovation.”

The first exhibit is “From Little Things Big Things Grow,” which opened Aug. 26 and will remain open until May 23, 2021. Named after the song by Kev Camody and Paul Kelly, this exhibit explores the relationship between identity, art and Indigenous People’s political desires to reclaim ownership of their land. It also shines a light on individual artists’ relationship to their lands amidst the modern land-rights movement. “From Little Things Big Things Grow” showcases a number of brightly painted canvases including one large collaborative painting made by thirteen female artists in residence from Tjala Arts in Amata.

The second exhibit is “Bäpurru ga Bäpurru: New Yolngu Prints from the Kluge-Ruhe Collection,” which opened Aug. 26 and will remain open through Jan. 10, 2021. This exhibit features a significant collection of new prints by Yolngu artists that come from the communities of Milingimbi in central Arnhem Land and Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land, a historical region in Northern Australia. These prints feature a unique etching technique on copper plates. Bäpurru ga Bäpurru is a Yolngu expression that has a dual meaning. On one hand it is used to say “all the clans too numerous to mention,” referring to the concept of shared ancestry or family. On the other hand, the phrase refers to death and mourning. In their prints, the artists illustrate the cycle of life and death as both celebratory and somber. 

In order to visit these two exhibitions while still adhering to social-distancing guidelines, visitors must make a reservation on the museum’s website. Reservations are divided in 30-minute increments for groups with up to eight people. For those 30 minutes, the visiting party will have the museum space completely to themselves. 

“If 30 minutes doesn’t feel long enough, parties can choose to reserve two 30 minute time slots back to back, so they have an hour to explore the new exhibitions,” Maupin added.

During the visit, guests must maintain a six-foot distance between themselves and employees at all times. Employees are required to wear a mask as well as visitors. Visitors who do not bring a mask will be provided with a disposable one. Moreover, the museum has a number of gloves and hand-sanitizing stations scattered throughout the space. Additionally, to accommodate these intervals and provide ample time to sanitize the space between groups, the museum hours have changed and are listed on their website. The museum has increased the frequency of their sanitization, especially for high-touch areas such as restrooms, and the gift shop is closed to minimize surface-contact. 

The process of preparing for the Aug. 26 opening was “a bit complex” according to Maupin. 

“Our galleries are small and we wanted to ensure that everyone felt comfortable, but it was a process we started in May, so we had extensive time to consider the best approach to keep everyone safe and continue providing a high-quality and engaging museum experience,” she said.

Despite the unprecedented changes, the Kluge-Ruhe’s reopening was a success and actually provided a more pleasant museum experience. 

“Many visitors in the past week have already commented on how unique and special it was to have exclusive access to the exhibitions and how safe they felt, as well as how nice it was to have a staff person nearby for questions,” Maupin said. “Visiting Kluge-Ruhe was a relaxed, awe-inspiring, reflective and educational experience for many visitors in the past, and those elements have only been enhanced in our new normal.”

To find more information or make a reservation, visit the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Collection website at