Exploring Arts & Culture: Celebrating First Nations Creatives Across Australia

In July and August every year, a collective of organisations come together to elevate and celebrate the incredible diversity of First Nations arts and cultural practice in this country. 

The Collective includes the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF), National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA), Country to Couture, Garma Festival, Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAAs), National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs), and the Salon des Refusés events.

Over the next few months, we’re travelling with you across this rich and dynamic land we call Australia. We’ll introduce you to just some of the Art Centres, artists, creatives and thought leaders involved in this organisation collective, and let you know how you can get amongst the 2022 celebrations. 

Words by | Camilla Wagstaff

Cover Image | Rock hole near Apungalium, courtesy of Utopia Art Centre.

First up, we’re heading to the Central Desert…

The Central Desert region is the beating heart of our vast continent, encompassing parts of Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory. The so-called Red Centre radiates with heat, undulating red sands and shimmering salt flats.

The vibrance and high-key energy of an arid land teaming with life is reflected in the dynamic art practice of the region. Central Desert artists are known for their energetic mark-making, dynamic use of colour, strong linework and innovative dot painting techniques. 

The Central Desert region boasts strong painting, ceramics and carving practices, as well as tjanpi weaving. Tjanpi translates to grass in Pitjantjatjara language. Artists working in the medium transform their native grasses into bold, contemporary baskets, bowls and sculptures. Tjanpi weaving is today an intrinsic aspect of Central and Western desert culture.

Art Centre: Utopia

Utopia is a relatively new enterprise nestled in Arlparra in remote Central Australia. This not-for-profit, 100% Alyawarr and Anmatyerr owned Art Centre supports artists across the 16 Homelands of the Utopia.

As artist Sam Jampijinpa Mbitjana Dixon says of the initiative:

“We’re strong. We’ve been holding this country. We’ve been waiting a long time for that power to come back. Old people gave us that power a long time ago and now we’re making strong canvas here. This is our art story now.”

DAAFF is delighted to welcome Utopia to their first Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in 2022.

Angelina Ngale, Atham-areny, Acrylic on Linen, 51cm x 76cm, 2021. Photo courtesy of Utopia Art Centre

Above: Angelina Ngale, Atham-areny, Acrylic on Linen, 51cm x 76cm, 2021. Below: 1) Droving, Motorbike Paddy, Acrylic on Linen, 51cm x 76cm, 2021. 2) Artist Motorbike Paddy. All photos courtesy of Utopia Art Centre.

Creatives: Dunjiba Community Artists

Hailing from one of South Australia’s most remote Aboriginal communities, Dunjiba Community Artists made quite the debut a DAAFF’s hotly anticipated Country to Couture fashion show in 2021. The community worked in collaboration with Peak Body Ku Arts over three years to create their bold, contemporary fashion collection. Pastel sportswear paired with bold prints and even bolder accessories were positively vibrant on the C2C runway. 

Featuring work by artists Kaye Finn, Carmen Amos and Richard Aitken, the collection was manufactured through The Social Studio, an accredited ethical clothing manufacturing studio in Melbourne. Dunjiba Fashion sales are set to support future creative and artistic programs led by Dunjiba Community Artists – and we can’t wait to see what they do next!

Angelina Ngale, Atham-areny, Acrylic on Linen, 51cm x 76cm, 2021. Photo courtesy of Utopia Art Centre

Melissa Stewart – Photo taken in Dunjiba (Oodnadatta, SA) by Melanie Henderson, Ku Arts, 2021

Art Centre: Hermannsburg Potters

Hermannsburg artists keep the legacy of the great Albert Namatjira and his Hermannsburg School watercolour tradition alive and well for future generations. The dedicated group of Western Arrarnta artists working at Hermannsburg Potters create handmade ceramic pots that embody the histories and traditions of their homelands.

Each artist is highly skilled in both terracotta clay hand-building and the watercolour landscape painting that characterises the Hermannsburg style. Each artwork reads like a love letter to Country, community and traditions, the local critters as well as elements of contemporary life.

The Hermannsburg Potters Art Centre supports these local artists and their families, fostering the growing local economy of Hermannsburg. Catch the Potters at this year’s Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair from 5-7 August. 

Artist Abel Pareroultja. Photo by Bec Capp courtesy of Hermannsburg Potters.

 Above: Artist Abel Pareroultja. Photo by Bec Capp. Below: 1) Pmurlankinya (Palm Valley), Abel Pareroultja, Terracotta and Underglazes, 11 x 9 cm, 2022. 2) Hayley Coulthard, Rona Rubuntja and Bethany Inkamala on Western Aranda Country. Photo by Genevieve Walshe. All images courtesy of Hermannsburg Potters.

Thought Leader: Shilo McNamee

Shilo McNamee joined The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) in 2018, and became the Artistic Director in 2021. Of Eastern Arrernte, Greek and Anglo-Irish descent, Shilo lives and breathes the arts, also practicing as a visual artist, musician and curator.

Shilo graduated from Charles Darwin University with a bachelor’s in fine arts in 2008. She has since lived and worked in the Top End, becoming an important figure in the Darwin arts community. 

As a visual artist, Shilo’s practice is informed by graphic art and illustration. She regularly instructs classes on drawing and painting and enjoys bringing this practical knowledge to her role at DAAFF, more recently as the Creative Director for the IFP Runway at AAFW.

Angelina Ngale, Atham-areny, Acrylic on Linen, 51cm x 76cm, 2021. Photo courtesy of Utopia Art Centre

Art Centre: Tangentyere Artists and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists

The work coming out of Alice Springs-based Tangentyere Artists and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists represents the breadth and depth of Central Australian cultural diversity.

The Tangentyere Artists Art Centre is the vibrant the hub for Town Camp Arts in Alice Springs. Yarrenyty Arltere Artists is a unique Town Camp enterprise and works closely with Tangentyere Artists.

Tangentyere artists have become well known for figurative paintings on canvas and metal, some with textual references ranging from the purely descriptive to the political. Yarrenyty Arltere Artists are internationally acclaimed for their soft sculpture works – exciting and bold expressions of life, culture and resilience. 

As Yarrenyty Arltere artist Dulcie Sharpe says:

“The art makes us think of our culture in another way and what we want people to know. It’s good for everyone to have a place like this it helps us be part of both worlds.” 

Marjorie Williams, Hermannsburg, Old Mission Days, Acrylic on Linen, 68 x 68 cm, 2022. Photo courtesy of Tangentyere Artists.

Above: Marjorie Williams, Hermannsburg, Old Mission Days, Acrylic on Linen, 68 x 68 cm, 2022. Photo courtesy of Tangentyere Artists. Below: 1) Nanette Sharpe sewing behind at the Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre on the Yarrenyty Arltere Town Camp Alice Springs 2021. Photo by Simon Eeles, courtesy of Yarrenyty Arltere Artists. 2) Marjorie Williams (C) with her family Coralie (L) and Ingrid (R), at Tangentyere Artists Art Centre, Alice Springs, 2022. Photo courtesy of Tangentyere Artists.

Nanette Sharpe sewing behind at the Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre on the Yarrenyty Arltere Town Camp Alice Springs 2021. Photo by Simon Eeles, court

More to Come…

Thanks for joing part one of the Exploring Art & Culture series! Over the next few months, we’re travelling with you across Country to introduce you to just some of the Art Centres, artists, creatives and thought leaders involved in The Collective events this year.

We look forward to seeing you in the Top End this July-August! Head over to events page to see what’s on. 

DAAFF Yarns… Painting memory with Ashley Fitzgerald

DAAFF Yarns… Painting memory with Ashley Fitzgerald

DAAFF Yarns with Ashley Fitzgerald… As a Wilinu Man, Ashley’s family originally hails from Dongara, a coastal area in the mid-west region of Western Australia. Family, community and connecting to Country are constant sources of inspiration for this artist.