Insight into Artlab’s Balgo Paintings Project

Balgo is located on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert and the western edge of the Tanami Desert of Central and Western Australia. It is home to the acclaimed artists who established one of Australia’s important paintings movement – the Balgo Art Movement – originating in a community centre in 1981.

Paintings created in the Balgo workshops during 1982 were bundled together in preparation for the first Balgo exhibition to be held that year. Unfortunately, the canvas boards disappeared and no one knew the whereabouts of these inaugural works. It was presumed they were lost forever until in 2019, the Balgo paintings were miraculously discovered in a shipping container in the Kimberly. The South Australian Museum subsequently acquired the works to become part of their collection.

In 2019 a Paintings Conservator from Artlab examined the Balgo paintings at the Museum. The conservator found the canvas boards had deteriorated as they had been stored for nearly forty years inside the shipping container, which was located outdoors and subjected to occasional flooding. The combination of heat and humidity inside the container created conditions for mould to form. Conservation treatment was inevitably required, as several of the paintings had various degrees of active mould damage and staining, and sections of the canvases were lifting from their backing boards.

Due to the worldwide pandemic in late 2019, the conservation work was halted and it was not until June 2021, that the Balgo paintings project was re-visited. The complexity and scope of the work presented a definite challenge for the Paintings team at Artlab, as fifteen works had to be conserved and prepared for the historically significant Balgo Beginnings exhibition due to open in October 2021 at the Museum.

Balgo Beginnings was held at the Museum, as part of the Tarnanthi Festival, from October 2021 to February 2022. The exhibition commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the Balgo Art Movement and for the first time, the lost paintings were displayed alongside works created by contemporary Balgo artists.

To learn more about the conservation treatment and to view a video of Artlab’s conservators talking about the process, please visit


  1. Paintings conservators examining a Balgo painting and test cleaning.
  2. Paper conservators laying original backing of canvas board on to Japanese paper prepared with starch.
  3. Balgo paintings flattened on top of a vacuum hot table after deactivating mould       residue from the canvases.