This publication brings together existing research as well as new data to show how Arnhem Land bark painting was critical in the making of Indigenous Australian contemporary art and the self-determination agendas of Indigenous Australians. It identifies how, when and what the shifts in the reception of the art were, especially as they occurred within institutional exhibition displays. Despite key studies already being published on the reception of Aboriginal art in this area, the overall process is not well known or always considered, while the focus has tended to be placed on Western Desert acrylic paintings. This text, however represents a refocus, and addresses this more fully by integrating Arnhem Land bark painting into the contemporary history of Aboriginal art. The trajectory moves from its understanding as a form of ethnographic art, to seeing it as conceptual art and appreciating it for its cultural agency and contemporaneity.