Established in 1948, Ernabella Arts is Australia’s oldest, continuously running Indigenous art centre. The art centre is located in Pukatja Community, at the eastern end of the Musgrave Ranges in South Australia’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (APY Lands).
The centre’s inimitable reputation lies in the adaptability and innovation of the artists who have been introduced to many different mediums since the art centre began. Today more than sixty senior and emerging Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara men and women (aged 16 to 80) work side by side to create some of Australia’s highest quality ceramics and paintings.
Ernabella’s ceramics studio practice is led largely by a dynamic group of young artists under 40, the likes of Tjimpuna Williams, Derek Jungarrayi Thompson, Anne Thompson, Elizabeth Dunn, Marissa Thompson and Lynette Lewis. Senior artists such as Pepai Jangala Carroll, Rupert Jack, Alison Milyika Carroll and Carlene Thompson provide leadership and cultural support.
The studio output is varied. Artists work with both thrown and hand built stoneware forms. Colour is widely used with vibrant commercial underglazes often being cleverly balanced with local sourced terra sigillata. The artists are highly skilled at the sgraffito technique, a style of mark making which directly relates to a long history of milpatjunanyi, storytelling in the sand, as well as pokerwork timber decoration and more than twenty-five years of batik practice. Artists such as Derek Jungarrayi Thompson and Lynette Lewis are renowned for their sensitive depictions of country and the ancestral animals that inhabit the landscape, mythic wanampi (watersnakes), ngintaka (lizards) and tjala (honey ants). Alison Milyika Carroll’s use of colour and pattern reflects the variations in the desert landscape she sees around her. Rupert Jack’s work interestingly incorporates both Biblical stories and Tjukurpa (cultural stories and law), employing the same bold iconography to depict both themes.
Ernabella ceramics are held in key public and private collections around the country, including the collections of the Art Gallery of South Australia, the National Museum of Australia, Shepparton Art Museum and the Powerhouse Museum. Ernabella has exhibited at Sabbia Gallery since 2011, including major exhibitions in 2014 and 2015 following residencies in the Big Pot Factory in Jingdezhen, China.
Torres Strait Islanders, inhabit the islands between Cape York at the tip of Queensland, bordered by the Great Barrier Reef to the East and Papua New Guinea to the North.
The people of the Torres Strait maintain a strong spiritual link with the land, sea, sky and seasons. Traditionally seafarers and traders, they had a fierce and powerful warrior tradition. They have a vibrant artistic heritage, characterised by their intersection with the cultures of their Melanesian, Pacific, Malay and Australian Aboriginal neighbours. At the heart of Torres Strait spiritual life is the belief that island, sea and all of nature possess a soul or spirit. Knowledge of sacred relationships is maintained in contemporary art practices and is vital to artists in exploring place and identity.
Erub is home to approximately 400 Erubam le (Erub People) whose seafaring heritage has traditions in elaborately decorated canoes, carved stone, and intricately made dance costumes and weaponry. Stories of creation and events are passed down through song and dance keeping cultural traditions vibrantly alive.
Erub artists are from four tribal groups. They draw artistic inspiration from their identity, connection to their totems through traditional and contemporary stories about their land, sea and family connections.
Erub is one of the very few Indigenous art centres firing with wood having built the most northerly kiln in Australia. Erub has been firing with wood since 1992 when a group of keen craft makers (Ekkilau) under the guidance of Diann Lui began experimenting, handbuilding simple forms and pots and firing them in primitive beach bonfires. Since 2002 Diann in collaborative partnership with Lynnette Griffiths has further developed the sculptural wood firing process these artists continue to use today. Those early beginnings and group experiments with clay created a strong group of people eager to learn more; put simply this group of women making and doing things together in clay became the foundation for what has grown to become the successful Erub Arts.
Works of all mediums including ceramics from Erub Arts are currently in national and International touring shows and have been acquired by the premier public collections throughout Australia.
GIRRINGUN ABORIGINAL ART CENTRE
Emerging from the rainforest canopy and a culture spanning countless generations, the work of Girringun artists is attracting a lot of attention.
The stories and environments of this ancient culture are being transformed into visual images and designs by weavers, painters, potters, textile artists and makers of traditional objects.
A continuing close connection to place and honouring of indigenous lore and culture provides inspiration for this work which embraces traditional and contemporary concepts.
Girringun artists have become internationally renowned for their bagu clay figures, with small and life size artworks being created, exhibited and commissioned in recent years.
The form and imagery of the bagu with jiman artwork has its origins in the sky. A mystical spirit of fire, would throw the jiman (firesticks) across the sky and a trail of fire would follow. Based on the traditional fire making implements of the Girringun rainforest Aboriginal people, the artists have created artworks made from clay, timber and string to evoke the spirit of the old people.
Traditionally, the firesticks were made up of two parts, the Bagu (body) and Jiman (sticks). Bagu is normally made from the boogadilla (milky pine tree) and Jiman are made from mudja (wild guava tree) or jiman. The bagu form was founded in the shape of a man and a spirit design was created with traditional clays and the ochre colours are magera yellow, jillan, black with wallaby blood and garba white.
The Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, based in Cardwell, represents artists from nine Traditional Owner Groups, the Nywaigi, Gugu Badhun, Warrgamay, Warungnu, Bandjin, Girramay, Gulgnay, Jirrbal and Djiru people.
The traditional country of these groups covers some 25,000 square kilometres of country from north of Townsville, south west to Clarke River, north to the Mission Beach area, west to Ravenshoe and east to include Hinchinbrook and the Family Group Islands.
The Western Aranda community of Ntaria (Hermannsburg) is based at the remote foothills of the stunning Western MacDonnell ranges, 130 kilometres west of Alice Springs, Central Australia. The township itself is the home of approximately 700 people, and the hub for 37 regional outstations, or ‘homelands.’
Hermannsburg’s contact history is rich and varied, and characterised by immense, rapid change, with the arrival of sheep and cattle farmers to the Lutheran missionaries. This history and their strong connection to Country and story-telling inspires the imagery of landscape and the natural environment which is respresented on the pots of these contemporary artists, and synonymous with Hermmansburg Pottery.
In 1990, senior Law man Nahasson Ungwanaka requested that pottery be taught to families who were at that time living on their outstations surrounding Ntaria. What started as an initial training program, on a tarp under a tree, has since become an internationally renowned art movement, lead and sustained by a dedicated group of women.
The Hermannsburg Potters push the boundaries of their imagination and skill through their iconic and vibrant practice. Their pottery is not utilitarian, but is viewed as a vehicle for self-expression to depict family life, ancestor totems and post-contact influences. Their closely observed pots exhibit an intriguing sense of humour, an element of gentleness and the sure knowledge and pride for the Western Aranda place in the world.
The Hermannsburg Potters have had an extensive career exhibiting widely through Australia and internationally. Their work is held in most major Australian institutions and several major art collections nationally and abroad.
Their recent commission for the National Gallery of Victoria ‘Our Land is Alive’ set new benchmarks for their engaging and lyrical pots. This major installation of work was held at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia from 19 September 2015 to 11 April 2016.
Tiwi Design is one of the oldest and most artistically diverse art centres in Australia. The art centre produces ochre paintings on canvas and bark, ironwood carvings, screen printed fabrics, ceramics, bronze and glass sculptures as well as limited edition prints.
Tiwi Design is located at Nguiu on the south eastern corner of Bathurst Island. Nguiu has a population of approximately 1500. Bathurst Island has a land area of 2,200 square kilometres and is 80 kilometres north of Darwin in the Northern Territory, Australia.
Tiwi Design started from a small room underneath the Catholic Presbytery on Bathurst Island in 1968. Two young men, Bede Tungatalum and Giovanni Tipungwuti worked with the art teacher from the school, Madeline Clear, to produce wood block prints. This art form was introduced because of the natural link with traditional wood carving techniques. By 1969 the artists started to transfer their designs onto silk screens. Printing textiles quickly became a major activity for the Tiwi Design artists. In 1970, a set of six linen place mats were awarded the Industrial Design Council of Australia’s Good Design Award.
In that same year, Bede Tungatalum and Giovanni Tipungwuti formed a partnership and Madeline Clear began to work full-time as Tiwi Design Art Adviser. By 1976, Tiwi Design had moved into the large new premises and started work on a wide range of art and craft. The partnership changed to an association in 1980 with the aim being to promote, preserve and enrich Tiwi culture.
Today the organisation is still operating with this aim in mind. There are approximately 100 artists working with Tiwi Design to create painting, wood sculptures, textiles, ceramics, pandanus weaving and printmaking.
A characteristic element found in Tiwi art is the geometric abstract designs relating to sacred or significant sites and seasonal changes. Geometric abstraction is the basis for the shapes of tradtional carvings such as pukumani poles used in burial ceremonies as well as basic imagery on barks and, more recently, on fabric, paper, pottery, ceramics, canvas and jewellery. Abstract pattern give the works a unique formalised quality but also allows for strong personal interpretation.
Tiwi Design has become an intrinsic part of the Aboriginal art and craft industry in Australia. The organisation continues to support traditional and contemporary art practice, working with highly skilled artists to express their culture.
Top Image: Bathurst Island. Photo courtesy Tiwi Design