Point of Difference: Desert to Sea has brought together a wide range of artists from the Tiwi Islands, Ernabella and APY Lands and aims to show how the three different regions have unique styles of expressing culture through art yet are united by the artists’ ancestral story lines. NITV spoke with Artitja Fine Arts director Anna Kanaris about the showcase.
NITV: What sparked the idea for the exhibition Desert to Sea?
AK: The idea for Desert to Sea came about from our involvement with both the Tiwi artists from Melville Island, and the Ernabella and Iwantja art centres in the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) lands. Both regions have very unique and different styles but are culturally connected.
Since around 2010 we have been working with the communities and showing their art in separate exhibitions. As soon as we arranged to hold this exhibition in the Engine Rooms (of which there are two) at Turner Galleries in Perth, we thought it would be great to bring both together to show the contrasting differences between the ‘desert’ and the ‘sea’, which is what we did. Then we asked Noongar Bush Sculptor/Weaver Janine McAullay Bott from Perth with family connections to the South West (WA) who we have represented since 2006, if she could create objects which would reference the works of both regions. She was delighted to do so and once we confirmed with the art centres – Munupi Arts in Melville Island, and Ernabella and Iwantja art centres in the APY lands – it was all systems go and we became very excited with the concept.
Where does the art that you have featured in the exhibition collide and where does it differ?
The concept was also about the cultural similarities – the title “point of difference” was more about the style, not the cultural storytelling and mythology that lies behind the works. The Tiwi are surrounded by water, however where you would think that the paintings might be about the sea, or the importance of water, they are very much about body paint designs used in ceremony and about ceremony and the importance of Kulama – an annual three day ceremony which honours the living, the dead and the land and all associated with it.
The desert paintings are also about the land and the ancestral stories important to the artists and their country, and Janine’s weaves are a testament to the connections between all three, for instance, a canoe that Janine created which refers to Tiwi artist Susan Wanji Wanji’s canoe painting, and a horse which refers to Iwantja’s Jimmy Pompey’s “Cowboy Story” painting. All three are interconnected through their dreaming, although from geographically distant locations.
If there is any collision at all it is intended – in the contrast between the gentle but confident earthy ochre tones used to the bright, bold, bursts of acrylic colour of the desert artists.
What are you most excited for people to experience & learn from this exhibition?
Our exhibitions always carry an educational component to them – we feel an obligation to not just show the art but to assist with making those cultural connections, that is why we invite the artists to attend the opening so that they can present the art, then when they have returned to their country, we can then continue their message. Also, we are really pleased that Janine McAullay Bott will be demonstrating her skill during a curatorial talk that will be held on Saturday 22nd October at the gallery. Janine is an internationally acclaimed artist and one of Australia’s foremost Indigenous weavers and watching her work is quite mesmerising and very informative.
Are there any new artists featured whose work is particularly unique?
From the Tiwi artists, there are a few budding stars beginning to raise attention. Virginia Gallaria and Jane Margaret Tipuamantumirri are two who whilst staying true to their aesthetic narrative, are applying slightly different techniques. Then further south, Mary Brumby from Indulkana has painted Ngura (Country) which is an exciting example of Indigneous art fitting very comfortably in the contemporary art scene. And I have to mention the technically proficient 16yo Vennita Lionel from Ernabella– a superb depiction of country in all shades of green.
Which established artists are featured and what do you love about their work?
We have some highly established artists in this exhibition, amongst our favourites would have to be Francesca (Nellie) Puruntatameri who has been an important part of Munupi Art centre and painting for over 30 years, octogenarian Cornelia Tipuamantumirri who in a short time has become a highly collected and sought after artist, Susan Wanji Wanji and from the APY lands Ernabella’s Tjunkaya Tapaya and Peter Mungkuri. Its really difficult to pick favourites, because we love all of them, and indeed all the works in the exhibition are all personally selected.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE Desert to Sea is free to the public and is open now until the 5 November 2016 at Turner Galleries in Northbridge, WA.