Bronwyn Bancroft is a Bandjalang artist of the Djanbun clan, born in Tenterfield, NSW in 1958. In 1980 she completed a three year Diploma of Visual Arts at the Canberra School of Arts, and then moved to Sydney where she continues to live with her three children. Subsequent periods of study have included a Masters of Studio Practice and a Masters of Arts in Painting at the University of Sydney in 2003 and 2006 respectively. Bancroft’s creative practice traverses textile design, illustration and now predominantly painting. In 1985 Bancroft established her own company: Designer Aboriginals P/L, through which she produced and sold limited edition hand printed fabrics and garments, and represented the work of other Koori artists. In 1987 her textiles, along with those of Euphemia Bostock and Mini Heath, were showcased by Aboriginal models in a Fashion Parade at the Au Primtemps Department Store in Paris. In 1989 her work was displayed in another European exhibition: 'Australian Fashion: Contemporary Art Exhibition’ in London. Items from these exhibitions are now in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.
Bancroft was a prominent figure within the community of urban-based Indigenous artists who gained a profile within the Australian art world in the 1980s. She was a founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative in 1987, and was included in the seminal exhibition 'A Koori Perspective’ which was part of the 1989 Australian Perspecta in Sydney. Bancroft’s work has consistently sought to affirm the diversity and distinctiveness of Indigenous Australian identity, often through overlapping renderings of the topics of family, community solidarity, memory, heritage and country. In the video A Matter of Identity produced in 1994, Bancroft makes a clear statement about the way she approaches her creative practice: 'I felt that I was an innovative and experimental enough artist to pursue and define my own Aboriginal imagery from within myself and my experience as an Aboriginal artist and person as opposed to just copying traditional imagery.’ This approach is reflected in the combination of photomontage and painting in the work You don’t even look Aboriginal (1991), in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. More recently her work has explored 'her family’s history and a sense of place through the prism of modern science’ and the way social narratives 'are spread through the forces of history and its collision with the natural world.’ (Vivien Anderson gallery website). Bancroft’s work is usually vibrantly coloured, reflecting her intuitive approach to colour. Sinuous figurative and plant forms, or more abstract curvilinear organic shapes and geometric structures are interspersed with intricate patterning. A common theme is the sacredness of nature , often evoked through an imaginative penetration of natural forms such that they are transparent to the viewer, layered and magnified in scale, or rendered so that we can see the continuity of plant forms above and below the ground.
Bancroft held her first solo exhibition at Boomalli in Sydney in 1989, and has held a number of solo exhibitions throughout her career, most recently at Vivien Anderson Gallery (2006) and the Koori Heritage Trust (2005), both in Melbourne. In 1991 a painting by Bancroft was appropriated for clothing produced by the fabric company Dolina. The case was settled out of court, however Bancroft’s struggle to hold the company to account for the forgery was part of a body of artistic copyright cases in the 1980s and 1990s that increased the public recognition of Indigenous cultural property rights, and was commemorated in the 1996 national touring exhibition 'Copyrites: Aboriginal Art in the Age of Reproductive Technologies’. Other significant group exhibitions in which Bancroft has participated include 'Six Contemporary Australian Artists’, Galerie Zuiger, Santa Fe, USA, in 2006; 'Our Place: Indigenous Australia Now’ at the Benaki Museum, Athens 2004; 'Native Title Business – Contemporary Indigenous Art’, toured by the Regional Galleries of Queensland, 2002; 'Urban Focus’, at the National Gallery of Australia, 1994; 'Contemporary Aboriginal Art 1990 from Australia’, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, Scotland, 1990. Her work is in a range of state, corporate and private collections in Australia and overseas.
Bancroft has illustrated numerous children’s books, including Fat and Juicy Place , authored by Dianna Kidd, which was awarded the Australian Multicultural Children’s Book Award in 1993. Also in that year she provided the illustrations for Stradbroke Dreamtime , by Indigenous poet and activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker). In 1994 she was selected to be the Australian candidate for the Jack Keats International Award for Excellence in Children’s Book Illustration, and in 2000 was the recipient of the third May Gibbs’ Residential Fellowship at Dromkeen, Victoria. SunMother Wakes the World: An Australian Creation Story , authored by Diane Wolkstein and illustrated by Bancroft was included in the New York Public Library’s Top 100 Children’s Books in 2004. Bancroft has also collaborated with Indigenous author and artist Sally Morgan, providing illustrations for the children’s books Just a Little Brown Dog , Dan’s Granpa and In Your Dreams , written by Morgan and published in 1997. The two artists exhibited together in 1991 with a prints show at Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria, and most recently at Hogarth Galleries, Sydney with the exhibition 'Honouring Life’. (2007).
Over the period of her career, Bancroft has received numerous commissions from the public and private sector, as well as for non-government organisations such as Amnesty International, to design murals and contribute to other public art enterprises, and provide illustrations for books, brochures, posters and logos. Among her commissions was a theme designing role for the opening of the 'Journey of a nation – Federation parade’ in Sydney in January 2001. Bancroft has been a passionate advocate for Indigenous people and the arts, with sustained periods of association with organisations such as Viscopy, the Council of the National Gallery of Australia, the National Indigenous Advocacy association, and the advisory board to the Museum of Contemporary Art. She also maintains a strong commitment to education, working as a tutor, lecturer and workshop convenor at a number of institutions, and participating as a speaker across a range of academic and community forums. In 1999 she was recognised as an Australian living treasure and in 2003 she was awarded the Centenary Medal of Australia.