For anyone walking the back streets of Darlinghurst on Friday afternoon, the opening of the APY Gallery was hard to miss.
While hundreds of patrons excitedly looked at the artworks, the large contingent of Anangu Elders and artists that had travelled from their remote communities in the APY Lands for the occasion, sat and conversed on the side of the kerb across the street, partly from shyness and partly in disbelief at the spectacle their work had created.
The desert mob had come to the city, and with them, they brought their magic.
The two-story APY Gallery, located in prime real estate just a few blocks from the National Art School, wasn’t large enough to hold the crowd that came to the grand opening.
The gallery is the first of its kind — fully Aboriginal-artist owned and led; the APY Gallery will provide a unique space for emerging artists from remote communities in the APY Lands, near Alice Springs, to showcase their work in Sydney. With this also comes the possibility to engage in artist in residence programs, develop their skills, and grow their profiles. The initiative will also allow buyers to purchase genuine, ethically sourced works, straight from the source. Proceeds will go to maintaining the ten art centres that make up the APY Art Centre Collective and their artists.
For these artists, it’s the stuff dreams are made of: “We have expanded the APY, from the desert to the coastland,” Anangu artist Vincent Namatjira tells me.
“To send works here, it’s a privilege for the whole world to see. We are really, really proud of this gallery space and we also thank Sydney.”
The vision for the Sydney gallery had been on the boil for five years. Vincent tells me the idea came from renowned Indulkana community Elder and Anangu artist, Peter Mungkuri.
Sitting proudly in front of one of the paintings while sporting a brand-new Akubra hat, Peter tells me the gallery is the Elders’ legacy for the next generation of artists.
“[This is] for the young people, you know. That’s why we’re opening here. Young people have to become working. … and at APY we’re teaching all that,” he says.
APY Art Centre CollectiveDirector, Nyurpaya Kaika, agrees.
“Everyone needs a job and the art centres are the only place where there are real jobs on the APY Lands, so we need to keep our art centres strong. We are thrilled to be sharing our powerful art and culture with our friends in Sydney,” she says.
And when the Elders, many of them established artists, say the gallery is their gift to the next generation, it’s not an exaggeration.
“A significant component of the start-up capital came from the Art Centres themselves,” Skye O'Meara, APY Art Centre Collective Manager says.
“The Art Centres decided on a small commission on sales of these works which grew and became a significant contribution towards the start-up capital. This, in turn, has allowed us to progress this sustainable model for future art sales for young and emerging artists of the [APY] Lands.”
Ms O’Meara also says the gallery wouldn’t have come to fruition without a little extra help. Everyone chipped in — even the builders and tradies that refurbished the gallery space saw the value their venture and gave them a good deal.
“We also received support from two very generous young philanthropists, Clare Ainsworth Herschell and Amanda Maple-Brown. Both of these young women have in a short period of time grown very strong relationships with Anangu Elders from various communities. They have become great friends with the Elders, artists, and staff,” she adds.
The APY Gallery takes a 20% commission and the remaining 80% of each sale is returned to the community. In their first weekend, the gallery sold over 50 works from young and emerging artists.
“The income, of course, is fabulous, but this is a unique model which allows art centres within APY Communities a new capacity to create sustainable employment opportunities, real jobs, for young people across the lands, in their own communities,” Ms O’Meara explains.
“These Artists are largely under the age of 40 and do not have commercial representation. They have very few opportunities to sell their works and develop their profiles, outside of our model. The Indigenous Art Industry has always preferred the work of senior artists, but it is time to embrace and celebrate artists of all ages. It's time to embrace Indigenous owned business and for young Indigenous artists to have the same opportunities as non-Indigenous artists,” she adds.
For Anangu artist Robert Fielding, the opening is a great triumph.
“We finally got this opportunity and we got this space now. This is our space and it belongs to APY and you can buy direct from Indigenous people and you know, to have this one-on-one contact,” he says.
“With the APY Gallery, it’s all about emerging artists, this is a platform, this is a stage for them for people to appreciate the works that are going on with our younger generation and that, once they become established as emerging artists in this gallery space, they will step up into other gallery spaces.”
Watch: Anangu artists speak about the importance of their art centre (English follows Pitjantjatjara)
When asked if the new APY Gallery has the potential to disrupt the traditional Aboriginal art market in Sydney, Robert quickly clarifies both worlds can coexist.
“[We] don’t want to offend all these [big] other galleries. We’re still working with them because we still need those outlets. We still have to have that relationship with those galleries,” he explains.
“[The APY Gallery] is a stage for people to appreciate the works [produced by] our younger generation. Once they become established as emerging artists in this gallery space, they will step up into other gallery spaces.”
The APY Art Centre Collective is an organisation made of 10 Indigenous-owned and governed Art Centres based on the APY Lands, the far northern tip of South Australia. Iwantja Arts, Mimili Maku Arts, Ernabella Arts, Kaltjiti Arts, Tjala Arts, Tjungu Palya Art Centre Maruku Arts, Tjanpi Desert Weavers, and Ara Irititja Aboriginal Corporation.