Delicate and rare bark paintings from the National Museum of Australia’s signature collection headline an unprecedented exhibition of Arnhem Land artworks, opening today at the National Museum of China in Beijing. The Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists exhibition features over 150 artworks and objects and represents the most significant collection of Aboriginal barks to tour China.

The tour coincides with the announcement that nationally acclaimed performer and advocate for traditional Chinese culture, Guo Degang will serve as a cultural ambassador in China for the National Museum of Australia. With over 2000 works of art on bark, the National Museum holds the world’s largest and richest collection of bark paintings. Old Masters features 123 bark paintings, 18 carvings, ten painting tools and three log coffins.

The exhibition highlights the work of master painters, from western, central and eastern Arnhem Land. The exhibition will tour mainland China for 20 months before heading to Taiwan, reflecting the strong international interest in Australian Indigenous art and culture.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have inhabited the Australian continent for at least 65,000 years and their rich and diverse culture is reflected in the barks’ intricate designs.

‘This delicate and beautiful collection of Arnhem Land bark paintings is one of Australia’s great cultural treasures and the National Museum of Australia is delighted to share them with Chinese audiences,’ said National Museum director Dr Mathew Trinca.

National Museum senior curator Dr Michael Pickering said Aboriginal Australians boast one of the world’s oldest continuing art traditions. ‘The three different regions represented in this exhibition have very different painting styles and we know overseas audiences will be fascinated by their depictions of Australian plants, animals and Indigenous culture,’ said Dr Pickering.

The exhibition will feature master painters including Yirawala and Narritjin Maymuru, Mawalan Marika and David Malangi. The 123 barks were painted between 1948 and 1985, and most featured in the Old Masters exhibition at the National Museum in Canberra in late 2013.