Student Curators Bring Diverse Perspectives to Aboriginal Art in New Exhibition

July 3, 2017

On July 20th from 5 – 9 pm, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA will open a major new exhibition curated by five undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds that are under-represented in the curatorial profession. The students’ exhibition, titled Songs of a Secret Country, features twenty-three artworks newly donated to Kluge-Ruhe by Stephen and Agatha Luczo.

This summer, Kluge-Ruhe is training the next generation of curators while addressing the pressing lack of diversity in American museums, as part of UVA’s broader Mellon Indigenous Arts Initiative. Five undergraduate students—India Ferguson, Imani Williford, Rosalba Ponce, Jake Martin, and Caitlin Keeve—have traveled to Charlottesville from their homes in California, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Florida to learn every aspect of designing an exhibition, from writing wall labels down to choosing wall colors.

India Ferguson is a rising senior from Florida International University who aims to attend a graduate program in curatorial studies. “I’m excited to celebrate the work of the Australian Indigenous artists in Charlottesville. It has been a great experience for our student curatorial group to create an exhibition that challenges us to immerse ourselves in different belief systems while reflecting upon our own identities.”

Songs of a Secret Country is the first display of a major new gift of twenty-three artworks to the Kluge-Ruhe Collection from San Francisco philanthropists Stephen and Agatha Luczo. Stephen is Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of Seagate Technology, a data storage solutions company and one of the world’s largest producers of computer hard drives. A model and former dancer, Agatha is the author of the children’s book Carla and Leo’s World of Dance. The Luczos began collecting contemporary Aboriginal art in 2006 and quickly amassed one of the largest collections in the USA. According to Blair Hartzell, curator of the Luczo Family Collection, “It is the brilliant level of engagement—with students, with the local community, and with artists from both America and Australia, that makes the Kluge-Ruhe the ideal home for this gift.” 

The donation features abstract, large-scale contemporary masterpieces from desert regions not heavily represented in the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. Curator Henry Skerritt explains, “The Stephen and Agatha Luczo Gift shows the continuing innovation and diversity of Aboriginal Australian art. Featuring some of the most important and acclaimed contemporary painters of the last decade—such as Makinti Napanangka and Harry Tjutjuna—it allows us to show the living nature of Aboriginal art and culture as it moves into the 21st century.” Director Margo Smith adds, “Kluge-Ruhe and the University of Virginia are tremendously grateful to the Luczos for the opportunity to use this major donation of artworks to advance our Mellon initiatives. Through this program Kluge-Ruhe is becoming the preeminent center for the study of Indigenous Australian art in the United States.”

Songs of a Secret Country: The Stephen and Agatha Luczo Gift and the accompanying catalogue will be launched on Thursday, July 20 at Kluge-Ruhe’s Night at the Museum event, with each student presenting a short “flat-chat” tour of key works in the exhibition. This event will also feature live original music by local band Adar, food trucks, beer from Blue Mountain Brewery and wine from Glass House Winery. Admission is $5 for non-members and free for museum members. It is family-friendly and no reservations are needed. For more information about the museum and this event, visit or call 434-244-0234.