LAND­SCAPE POR­TRAIT

Deep in re­mote north-west­ern South Aus­tralia, a group of Abo­rig­i­nal artists are win­ning in­ter­na­tional ac­claim for their strik­ing con­tem­po­rary works. By So­phie Ted­man­son.

VOGUE Australia - - Contents - PHO­TO­GRAPHS JAKE TERREY

Deep in re­mote north-west­ern South Aus­tralia, a group of Abo­rig­i­nal artists are win­ning in­ter­na­tional ac­claim.

Fly­ing high above the South Aus­tralian Out­back, the red dirt is bro­ken by lines of eu­ca­lyp­tus trees and bush scrub in­ter­sect­ing the earth like ar­ter­ies, the lifeblood of the land. We are pass­ing over the Painted Desert, a beau­ti­ful land­scape that un­folds like a wel­come mat, a soil can­vas that does in­deed re­sem­ble a stun­ning work of art. Fur­ther along, the ground shim­mers into a daz­zling pink and white salt lake, then rises into rugged green and brown moun­tain ranges; the scenery trans­form­ing kalei­do­scop­i­cally be­fore our eyes. It’s an evolv­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal work of art that has been reimag­ined in Abo­rig­i­nal song, dance and Dream­ing sto­ries for mil­len­nia.

This part of our sun­burnt coun­try be­longs to the peo­ple of the Aṉangu Pit­jan­t­jat­jara Yankun­yt­jat­jara (APY) Lands, which makes up a 103,000-square-kilo­me­tre area of north­west­ern South Aus­tralia, a perime­ter that runs along the West­ern Aus­tralian and North­ern Ter­ri­tory bor­ders. It is Aṉangu coun­try, one which holds their Tjukurpa (an­ces­tral cre­ation sto­ries); storylines that are passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. While the fo­cus of many Indige­nous Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ties is of­ten on their bat­tles with long-term health is­sues, gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions, decades of ne­glect and the his­tor­i­cal ef­fects of the Stolen Gen­er­a­tion, APY Lands peo­ple con­nect and heal through their art and their art cen­tres, which form the phys­i­cal and emo­tional nu­cleus of their com­mu­ni­ties.

“There is a unity and bond that we have with our neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties – East­ern and West­ern desert art is one, and we stand to­gether as a com­mu­nity of art,” says Robert Field­ing, an award-win­ning artist and Abo­rig­i­nal leader from the Mim­ili Maky Arts in Mim­ili com­mu­nity. Field­ing is one of dozens of artists from the APY Lands who will ex­hibit at TAR­NAN­THI, the bi­en­nial Fes­ti­val of Con­tem­po­rary Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Art, which will show­case more than 1,000 Indige­nous artists at the Art Gallery of South Aus­tralia and other venues around Ade­laide this month. High­lights from the APY Lands in­clude a ma­jor sculp­tural col­lab­o­ra­tive in­stal­la­tion of sus­pended

ku­lata (spears) and wooden piti (bowls); large-scale ephemeral paint­ings made on coun­try of an­ces­tral cre­ation sto­ries cre­ated col­lab­o­ra­tively across com­mu­ni­ties by 45 artists; and ex­em­plary works by award-win­ning artists in­clud­ing Betty Kun­tiwa Pu­mani, who won this year’s Wynne Prize.

The strength of the women in the com­mu­ni­ties is po­tent. In the Tjala Arts cen­tre at Amata com­mu­nity, Bar­bara

Moore says her mother taught her how to paint, but she adapted it to her unique per­sonal style. Sev­eral hours’ drive away at the Ern­abella Arts cen­tre, a group of women are sit­ting qui­etly in the back work­shop del­i­cately carv­ing pat­terns like lino cuts into ce­ramic pot­tery vases, which the com­mu­nity is fa­mous for pro­duc­ing. El­iz­a­beth Dunn uses her lit­eral en­vi­ron­ment as in­spi­ra­tion. “Some­times we go out to the bush and eat bush toma­toes and learn the sto­ries,” she says, carv­ing the na­tive plant pat­terns into the vase. “I learnt from watch­ing other peo­ple in the com­mu­nity.”

The young artists of the APY Lands are un­sur­pris­ingly more con­tem­po­rary than their el­ders, bring­ing a mod­ern ap­proach that tran­scends gen­er­a­tions and cul­tures. One of the most cel­e­brated is Vin­cent Na­matjira from Iwan­tja Arts in In­dulkana com­mu­nity, whose ir­rev­er­ent The Queen and

Me is a trib­ute to his great-grand­fa­ther Al­bert, who was awarded the Queen’s Corona­tion medal in 1953. Na­matjira’s bold aes­thetic and hu­mor­ous take on celebrity and pol­i­tics has earnt him many ac­co­lades – two of his works have been ac­quired by the Bri­tish Mu­seum, he was a fi­nal­ist for this year’s Archibald and Ram­say Art Prizes, and will also be show­cased at the Syd­ney Con­tem­po­rary art fair this month.

An­other is Kay­lene Whiskey, who shows us a paint­ing of Won­der Woman hunt­ing for kan­ga­roo with her spe­cial rope las­soo, ac­com­pa­nied by Michael Jack­son with a spear, stand­ing near a wombat hole. Whiskey’s satir­i­cal hu­mour – her other works are in­spired by Dolly Par­ton and Cher – in­fuses pop cul­ture gleaned from TV, ra­dio and ad­ver­tis­ing, with tra­di­tional Aṉangu cul­ture learnt from grand­par­ents.

Th­ese APY artists are dom­i­nat­ing Indige­nous art across Aus­tralia, en­joy­ing healthy in­ter­na­tional sales and myr­iad award nom­i­na­tions – in­deed, six out of eight of this year’s Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Art Awards were pre­sented to artists from the APY Lands.

Nici Cump­ston, TAR­NAN­THI cu­ra­tor and her­self an Indige­nous artist, says while Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der artists can stand alone in main­stream art fairs, “TAR­NAN­THI gives us a unique op­por­tu­nity to delve deeply and present the works of art through the voices of our artists, giv­ing agency to their way of think­ing.”

Back in the South Aus­tralian bush, Robert Field­ing is stand­ing along­side his lat­est cre­ation: an old Holden aban­doned by the side of a dirt road that he has painted in red-and-green-dot mo­tifs to “bring this ob­ject to life and give it colour … to add colour to it, it’s a res­ur­rec­tion.”

He con­tem­plates the idea that TAR­NAN­THI rep­re­sents more than the art for Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

“To live in your com­mu­nity is about who you are as a per­son and how you re­spect the land, and how we live to­gether in unity and how we, as Indige­nous peo­ple, can own a share of bits and pieces and the snip­pet of our sto­ries and songs and dance that we have,” he says with a smile. “We all have dif­fer­ent forms of art, but to show peo­ple and to show­case our work in dif­fer­ent forms is a snip­pet of who we are as a cul­ture, and our peo­ple of re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, and to show how im­por­tant it is that we have so much his­tory and so much song that non-Indige­nous peo­ple are the ones who are hun­gry to un­der­stand who we are.” TAR­NAN­THI opens on Oc­to­ber 13. Go to www.tar­nan­thi.com.au.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: JENNIFER INGKATJI’S PAINT­ING AT THE TJALA ARTS CEN­TRE IN AMATA; AT THE ERN­ABELLA ARTS CEN­TRE, FROM LEFT: LYNETTE LEWIS, JERMIAH BUR­TON, PEPAI JANGALA CAR­ROLL (BE­HIND), EL­IZ­A­BETH DUNN AND EVA WELLS; RAY KEN, PA­TRI­ARCH OF THE KEN FAM­ILY OF ARTISTS, AT AMATA; TUPPY GOOD­WIN FROM THE MIM­ILI COM­MU­NITY; THE SUN-PARCHED LAND­SCAPE OF NORTH-WEST­ERN SOUTH AUS­TRALIA; VIN­CENT NA­MATJIRA, IN FRONT OF HIS ART­WORK THEQUEENANDME, AND KAY­LENE WHISKEY FROM THE IWAN­TJA ARTS IN IN­DULKANA COM­MU­NITY; BAR­BARA MOORE AT AMATA; PEPAI JANGALA CAR­ROLL FROM THE ERN­ABELLA COM­MU­NITY; THE APY LANDS STRETCHES FOR THOU­SANDS OF KILO­ME­TRES; ROBERT FIELD­ING, FROM THE MIM­ILI COM­MU­NITY, WITH HIS CAR ART­WORK.

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