Image: Jimmy K Thaiday, with his ghost net drum, 2020, Photo credit Lynnette Griffiths.

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’re in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands.

By Camilla Wagstaff

Where are we?


Far North Queensland (affectionately known as FNQ), is situated in the northern-most part of the Sunshine State. Geographically the area is dominated by the stunning Cape York Peninsula, which stretches north to the waters and islands of the Torres Strait and west to the Gulf Country.

Surrounded by some of the most incredible reef systems in the world and teeming with lush tropical rainforest, FNQ boasts a whopping 70 national parks and three World Heritage Sites, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics of Queensland and Australia’s largest fossil mammal site Riversleigh.

FNQ is a hotbed of artistic and cultural diversity and is the only region with two distinct Indigenous cultures – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. FNQ and Torres Strait artists are known for their fresh and vibrant paintings often featuring a more coastal palette than their distant desert neighbours. Intricate lino and screen prints, Ghost Net sculptures (made of discarded fishermen’s nets that wash up on local beaches), wearable art and masks, wood
carvings and ceramics take cue from the surrounding seas and skies, as well as the rich life they hold.

Some of the country’s most renowned Art Centres service the many and diverse cultural groups of the area. Art Centres are important places fostering community, culture and Country. Often so much more than a professional art making studio, Art Centres support Indigenous practitioners in the production and sale of their work and become a vital part of community life. They foster Aboriginal identity, encourage artistic practice, and provide a place where younger generations can work and learn from their 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 know those funds going back to the artist, with a small portion is invested back into the Centre for operational costs and community programs.


Art Centres to explore…


Mirndiyan Gununa – MIArt


Mirndiyan Gununa, or Mornington Island Art, is nestled on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Centre maintains and develops the cultures of the Lardil and Kaiadilt peoples, strengthens the local communities and helps to promote their unique culture to the rest of the world. Mirndiyan Gununa was instrumental in launching the international artistic career of the late Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, and many of Gabroi’s family members still paint here.

Image: Amanda GABORI, My Mother’s Country, Acrylic on Belgian linen, 152x196cm, 2020, Photo courtesy MIArt.


Pormpuraaw Arts and Cultural Centre


Pormpuraaw Arts and Cultural Centre is situated in a remote Aboriginal community on the Gulf of Carpentaria on the Cape York Peninsula. Pormpuraaw translates to entranceway to a house in local Thaayorre language, a nod to the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. The Art Centre sits on the traditional homeland of the Thaayorre and Kugu tribes, and is a sanctuary for language, culture and art. Pormpuraaw artists are well known for their painting, printing and sculptures made from Ghost Net.

Image: Jeannie Holroyd, Full Moon Jellyfish Dance, Etching on Paper, 40x49cm, 2016. Photo by Paul Jakubowski.


Moa Arts


Moa Arts’ artists don’t have to look too far to be inspired. The Art Centre is situated on Mua Island in the Torres Strait, its surrounding waters and reefs holding a diverse set of ecosystems boasting unique species like dugong and sea turtle. A traditionally seafaring people with deep connections to sea, land and sky, artists here draw inspiration from ancestral stories, animal totems and spirit beings. Their diverse practice includes woven bags and sculptures, screen prints, works on paper, paintings and jewellery.

Image: Fiona Elisala and Paula Savage, Women in Pearling Days, Colour reduction lino print and handwash, 120x81cm, 2020, Photo courtesy Moa Arts.


Hopevale Arts & Cultural Centre


The Hopevale Arts & Cultural Centre community comprises approximately 20 clan groups from the Guugu Yimidhirr nation, whose knowledge transcends into a diverse range of skills handed down through family groups. Many of the artists’ works are drawn from local flora and fauna, as well as traditional land and totems. Artists here immortalise their oral history in intricate canvas and weaving works, and the Art Centre is also well known for its uniquely designed fabrics. In collaboration with Queensland University of Technology student designers, Hopevale textiles were showcased at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Image: Wanda Gibson, Guuliil, Acrylic on Plywood, 60×80 cm, 2019, Photo courtesy of Hopevale Arts.


Artists to look for at DAAF 2020…


Philip Denham

Showing with: Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre

Girramay man Philip Denham boasts extensive knowledge of the environment and its resources. His work reflects his deep cultural ties to Country, often referencing the traditional fire making implements of the Girringun people. Traditionally, these fire sticks were made up of two parts, the Bagu (body) and Jiman (sticks), with the Bagu usually taking the shape of a man. Denham is driven to work with other Traditional Owners to share his cultural knowledge. 

Image: Philip Denham, Girramay Country, Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, 2019, Photo courtesy of Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre.


Garry Namponan

Showing with: Wik and Kugu Art Centre

Garry Namponan is highly skilled across a range of media including sculpture, printmaking, book illustration and painting. The son of renowned wood carver Angus Namponan, Garry studied art at the Bachelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Northern Territory in the early 1980s. He is perhaps most well-known for his sculptures of camp dogs, dingos and birds – representations of figures of potent religious and spiritual significance – which have been included in important exhibitions across the country and further abroad.

Image: Leigh Namponan, Keith Wikmunea. Garry Namponan, David Marpoondin, Bevan Namponan IACA Belonging Art workshop by Edwina Circuitt, Photo courtesy of Wik and Kugu Arts Centre.


Laura Mooka

Showing with: Gab Titui Cultural Centre

Growing up away from traditional island community life, Laura Mooka came to art as a young girl as a way to stay connected to her culture. She has since made a name for herself through her vibrant acrylic works on canvas and glass bead jewellery. Taught traditional beading skills from her mother, every necklace is a personal tribute to this important bond. Laura feels proud to share her traditional knowledge and culture with others, also wishes to inspire others to share and showcase their creative skills.

Image: Laura Mooka, Thursday Island, Torres Strait, Photo Credit Gab Titui Cultural Centre.


Jimmy Kenny Thaiday

Showing with: Erub Arts

Jimmy Kenny Thaiday is an emerging talent who works across a number of media including Ghost Net and ceramics. His work is inspired by his cultural connections as he strives to share his stories with young people keeping traditions alive and accessible.

Image: Jimmy K Thaiday, with his ghost net drum, 2020, Photo credit Lynnette Griffiths.