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DAAFF Yarns… with Gwen Gaff, Ku Arts

Jun 16, 2021

Banner Image | Carlene Thompson painting Kalaya Ngura (Emu Country) in Ernabella

DAAFF Yarns… With Gwen Gaff, Ku Arts

Over the past few months, we’ve been giving you a peek inside the country’s major Art Centre Peak Bodies. 

These organisations are vital within the Indigenous arts industry, and their remit includes everything from governance to support for business, professional and project development, sales and marketing. Essentially, Peak Bodies act as a key support and voice for the Art Centres providing autonomy, sustained growth and stability for First Nations Communities. 

Today we chat to Gwen Gaff, CEO of Ku Arts, the Peak Body for the Art Centres of South Australia.

Words | by Camilla Wagstaff, in conversation with Gwen Gaff.

What is the role of your Peak Body in the Indigenous arts sector?

Ku Arts is the South Australian support organisation for Aboriginal Art Centres and artists. Formed in 1998 with a vision to support First Nations artists across South Australia, we have been providing advocacy, support services, creative skills and professional development opportunities for artists and Arts Workers across all stages of their careers in support of a strong and vibrant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts sector. 

We have great aspirations for our Aboriginal Art Centres and communities and play a part in maintaining and celebrating culture in every part of our work. We know this is especially important for our young people – they are our future leaders. We wish to contribute to their creativity, health, wellbeing and hopes.

Tell me a little more about the region’s Art Centres and what makes them special?

Ku Arts works with a number of Art Centres throughout South Australia and also delivers the community-led Statewide Indigenous Community Arts Development (SICAD) project – which provides a range of professional services to artists working in locations where there is typically no access to community-owned Art Centres. 

Arts Ceduna is the Premier Aboriginal Art Centre on the Eyre Peninsula. Arts Ceduna sells artwork on behalf of at least 136 artists in the Far West region of South Australia. Artists from the Far West Coast of South Australia are strongly influenced by their environment. To the west of Ceduna, the vast plains of the Nullabor inspire artists’ work, while the area north of Ceduna boasts the largest untouched virgin mallee and spinifex Country. To the south sit the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight and to the east the ancient rock formations of the Gawler Ranges. This diverse cultural environment of land, sea and desert is reflected strongly in the work of the artists.

Ninuku Arts is an Indigenous owned and governed Art Centre which supports artists from two communities, Pipalyatjara and Kalka. Located in the Tomkinson ranges on the tri-state border of South Australia, Western Australia, and Northern Territory, the studio is one of the smallest and most remote in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Working inside of the first community-built mud brick building in Kalka, Ninuku artists specialise in a range of styles from fine dot to abstract brushwork, painting stories of ancestral Tjukurpa and Ngurra (home and Country) as well as those of everyday life in the bush. Ninuku artists are known for their bold and energetic colour palates and diverse styles. 

Ernabella Arts was established in 1948, making it Australia’s oldest, continuously running Indigenous Art Centre. Ernabella Arts is in Pukatja Community, 440 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs, at the eastern end of the Musgrave Ranges in the far north-west of South Australia. Ernabella is known for its magnificent fabrics as well as printmaking on paper and paintings on canvas and beautiful ceramic work. The first works were hand-loomed woven fabrics and hand-pulled and knotted floor rugs with a unique pattern that became known as ‘the Ernabella walka’ or anapalayaku walka (Ernabella’s design). In recent years, senior women decided to leave behind the walka of the early days and to depict their Tjukurpa (sacred stories of Country and law).

Image | Josephine Lennon, Ceduna Arts, 2021, photo by Serena Gunter

Image | Rita and Monica Watson at Ninuku Arts. Photo by Meg Hansen.

What do you think DAAFF and its events mean to your membership?

DAAFF provides an incredible experience for our membership. It enables the Art Centre artists, Art Workers and staff to connect directly with and develop relationships with their supporters, collectors and audiences. 

Showcasing their Art Centre, region and works fills artists with pride and secures vital economic benefit. DAAFF participants have commented on how this opportunity had increased their connection to art and culture and broadened their knowledge on process, materials and ways to increase their professionalism. 

What were the key learnings for you in 2020? 

2020 was an exceptional and unprecedented year, with intensive and bespoke support to our members amidst the wide-scale interruptions to programs and projects. The resilience and flexibility of our members and our team at Ku Arts, as well as the increased communication and collaboration across the arts sector, was and is inspiring.  

2020 was a challenging year for Ku Arts in terms of face-to-face delivery. All travel to deliver our usual support services to APY and West Coast Art Centres and workshops associated with the SICAD Program were postponed. But COVID-19 did enable us to connect and support our members and SICAD artists remotely and inspired the delivery of Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara language and culture course we are currently delivering over Zoom. 

We also partnered with fellow arts organisations and Aboriginal community and health services to deliver support and creative care packs to artists in regional SA and Adelaide who are not supported by or were separated from their community and Art Centre. Artists were encouraged to share their creations on social media with the message ‘stay creative, stay connected’ as a way to alleviate isolation during lockdowns.

On behalf of our members and artists, I’d like to extend a special thank you to our team for their commitment through a challenging 2020, and in particular to our previous CEO, Marie Falcinella for the passion and hard work she delivered in 2020 and throughout her time with Ku Arts.

What is in store for the rest of 2021?

New creative projects are under development in 2021 with the acquisition of funding to our members and partners. Ku Arts has now secured vital Australia Council Multi-Year Organisation funding for 2021-2024. This will increase the sustainability of the organisation and our ability to support our members in developing programs and projects, and meet the bespoke needs of independent artists across regional and remote areas.  

Ku Arts is currently working on projects, programming and events that were postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19. Some of these include the Dunjiba Design Fashion Project; the Strong Arts Program in Port Augusta and Adelaide; the Tarnanthi Festival; the Ku Arts Symposium and APY Infrastructure Works.

Ninuku Arts will hold exhibitions at Sydney Contemporary through Sabbia Gallery and Jamfactory Craft and Design Barossa Valley both in September 2021 and again in Melbourne in 2022. Ernabella artists will be taking part in the Painting Now exhibition in Le Havre, France in July as part of the Australian Now France 2021 campaign. Arts Ceduna artists are currently working on creating artwork for the Tarnanthi Art Fair in Adelaide and the National Indigenous Art Fair in Sydney for NAIDOC week 2021.

Image | Janice Stanley working on one of her Pantu (Salt Lake) paintings in the Ernabella Arts studio.

MORE TO COME 

Thank you to Gwen Gaff for sharing the Ku Arts story as part of the ‘DAAFF Yarns’ series on the Peak Bodies.  

You can see more from Ku Arts at www.anangukuarts.com.au

Thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe as the series continues, and if you haven’t already, catch up on our last posts below.