Image: Anwar Young of Tjala Arts with Kulata and Miru, near Amata, APY Lands, SA. 2018. Photograph by Rohan Thompson. Courtesy of APY Art Centre Collective.
Connecting to Country, From our Home to Yours is your region-by-region guide to some of the most dynamic Art Centres and incredible artists working in Indigenous communities across the country.
Today, we explore the vibrant Central Desert.
By Camilla Wagstaff
Where are we?
The first thing to know about the Central Desert region is that it’s astoundingly large, punishingly arid, but still teeming with life, community and rich, diverse culture. The beating heart of the continent radiates with heat, undulating red sands and shimmering salt flats, encompassing parts of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory The vibrance and high-key energy of the land is reflected in the dynamic art practice that characterises the region. Though it should be noted that no single sentence, paragraph or even encyclopedia could ever truly capture the diversity of Indigenous art, Central Desert artists are at broadest strokes known for their energetic mark-making, dynamic use of colour, strong linework and innovative dot painting techniques. The Central Desert is home to numerous thriving Art Centres, many of which you can catch at DAAF 2020. Art Centres are powerful places that celebrate community, culture and Country. These professional art making studios empower and support Indigenous practitioners in the production and sale of their work. They often become a vital part of community life, fostering Aboriginal identity, encouraging artistic practice, and providing a platform whereby younger generations can work and learn side-by-side with community elders.
Perhaps most importantly, Art Centres provide a gateway to explore understand, buy, share and exhibit Indigenous art. When you buy an artwork from a reputable Art Centre, you can guarantee those funds going back to the artist, with a small portion is invested back into the Centre for operational costs and wider community programs.
Art Centres to explore…
Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre
Directed by the relatives of the great and innovative artist Albert Namatjira, Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) Art Centre keeps the legacy of the famous Hermannsburg School watercolour tradition strong for future generations. Artists here are renowned for scenic watercolour paintings of the West MacDonnell Ranges, which embody a more typically more western painting aesthetic. The style has grown steadily over the last 80 years, and members of the Art Centre currently support the 6th generation of Western Arrernte artists.
Image: Reinhold Inkamala, Tjoritja – West MacDonnell Ranges, 2019. Watercolour on paper, 26x36cm, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) Art Centre.
Art Centres from the APY Art Centre Collective
The APY Art Centre Collective represents 11 Anangu-owned and governed organisations operating in the remote north-west of South Australia. The group includes some of the most renowned Art Centres in Australia; names like Ernabella Arts, Iwantja Arts, Kaltjiti Arts, Mimilu Maku, Niniku Arts, Tjala Arts, and Tjungu Palya Artists, to mention a few. Together these Art Centres facilitate the work of more than 400 artists working on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. APY is home to some of the most well-known and collectable Indigenous artists in the country, as well as a host of young and emerging talents.
Image: Artists Anwar young, Dickie Marshall, Stanley Young & Brendan Raymond with Kulata, Amata, June 2018. Courtesy: APY Art Centre Collective.
Artist of Ampilatwatja
Nestled in the northern most part of the Central Desert Region, Artists of Ampilatwatja are renowned for their brightly coloured, very finely dotted landscape paintings, recognisably distinct from other artistic communities. Underneath the iridescent and often almost childlike surfaces of the Ampilatwatja paintings, there is much more than meets the eye. The artists actively reveal only a small amount of cultural information to the uninitiated, concealing sacred knowledge underneath a delicately layered dots that work to form a more common visual narrative.
Image: Julieanne Ngwarraye Morton, My Country and Bush Medicine Plants, 2019. Acrylic on Linen, 91 x 61cm. Photo: Caroline Hunter. Courtesy: the artist and Artists of Ampilawatja.
Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation
One of the longest-running Aboriginal-owned Art Centres in Central Australia, Warlukurlangu artists have over the decades firmed up an international reputation for their and translations of culture and Country. Warlukurlangu means belonging to fire in local language, Warlpiri, and is named after a fire Dreaming site west of Yuendumu. And it’s the elements of fire that translate to the work – energy, vibrancy and life.
Image: Ricardo Jampijinpa Gallagher, untitled, 2020. Acrylic on Belgium Linen, 91 x 91cm. Courtesy: the artist and Warlukurlangu Artists
Artists to look for at DAAF 2020…
Dianne Ungukalpi Golding
Showing with: Tjanpi Desert Weavers
Dianne Ungukalpi Golding’s sculptural works draw inspiration from the animals prevalent on her traditional lands – from the camp dogs in the community or the goannas, porcupines and rabbits hunted out bush. An established artist belonging to the Ngaanyatjarra language and cultural group in Western Australia, Dianne’s fibre artworks have been widely exhibited with Tjanpi Desert Weavers, with number of pieces acquired by national institutions and important private collections across the country.
Image: Artist Dianne Golding Working on Tjanpi Figure out Bush. Photo: Jo Foster. Courtesy: Tjanpi Desert Weavers, NPY Women’s Council.
Eunice Napanangka Jack
Showing with: Ikuntji Artists
When Eunice Napanangka Jack was a little girl, like so many other Aboriginal families at the time, shortages of food forced her family east towards the ration stations being set up in central Australia. She vividly remembers the travels and refers to it as when her mother carried her piggyback all the way from Western Australia to Haasts Bluff. Now an important community elder, Eunice is well known for her hunting skills, dancing and traditional law knowledge. A brilliant colourist, Eunice paintings are interpretations of her country near Lake Mackay, employing layers of colour to build up a vision of the bush in all its splendour.
Image: Artist Eunice Napanangka Jack at the Ikuntji Artists Studio, 2018. Photo: Chrischona Schmidt. Courtesty: Ikuntji Artists.
Showing with: Ernabella Arts
Yurpiya Lionel started painting at Ernabella Arts in 2004, following in the footsteps of her mother and very senior artist Pantjiti Lionel. Yurpiya primarily paints Anumara, her family’s Country in remote Western Australia, which shares its name with, and is the tjukurpa (Dreaming) place for a kind of caterpillar typical to the region. She is also an accomplished fibre sculptor and weaver, using tjanpi (native grass) and raffia to make baskets, animals and other objects. Exhibited widely both at home and abroad, Yurpiya has been a finalist in the highly prestigious Wynne Prize and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.
Image: Artist Yurpiya Lionel painting Anumara Photo: Meg Hansen. Courtesy: Ernabella Arts.
Showing with: Maruku Arts
An internationally exhibited painter with Warakurna Artists and weaver with Tjanpi Desert Weavers, Cynthia Burke is also one of the region’s foremost emerging wood carvers. Born in Alice Springs and growing up in the central desert of Western Australia, Cynthia’s practice explores the seasonal shifts and changes of her traditional Country. The artist also works at Ngaanyatjarra Media and hosts a daily radio program in her local language. In 2014, she became one of Maruku Arts’ youngest directors.
Image: Cynthia Burke in the NPY Lands together with Punuwoman from Maruku Arts, gathering wood for a sculpture. Courtesy: Maruku Arts.