Huge Aboriginal art festival begins in South Australia

The world’s largest celebration of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture has started in Adelaide and will feature in France next year.

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Tarnanthi: Festival of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art 2019 features the work of more than 1000 artists from across Australia in a range of mediums.

The festival was launched at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) on October 17 and runs through to January 27. The Art Gallery will host 30 collaborative or solo projects involving 195 artists during the festival while another 33 events and exhibitions will be held at 30 venues across South Australia.

AGSA has also announced that in 2020 Tarnanthi will feature an exhibition in France for the first time. The gallery, in collaboration with APY Collective and the Regional Council of Brittany, will present Kulata Tjuta at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, in Brittany, France, in October 2020.

The centrepiece of the Brittany exhibition will be the signature work of the 2017 Tarnanthi festival — a spectacular installation titled Kulata Tjuta, meaning ‘Many Spears’, which comprises more than 500 spears, suspended in mid-air.

AGSA Director Rhana Devenport said she was thrilled the Tarnanthi legacy would be shared beyond Australian shores next year.

“As Tarnanthi shows so vividly, art can communicate across cultures and across continents,” she said.

“And through art, Tarnanthi articulates a message about the depth of culture in this land — a message that shapes lives locally, attitudes nationally and, increasingly, awareness internationally.”

Tarnanthi is a Kaurna word that means the first light of day or the first sight of a seed sprouting. The Kaurna are the original people of the Adelaide Plains.

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Ngupulya Pumani, Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara people, South Australia, born 1948, Mimili, South Australia, Antara, 2018, Mimili, South Australia, synthetic polymer paint on linen, three panels; © Ngupulya Pumani/Mimili Maku Arts.

This weekend in Adelaide features the Tarnanthi Art Fair at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute where works from 50 art centres and more than 500 artists will be available for purchase.

Tarnanthi Artistic Director Nici Cumpston said Adelaide and South Australia had become a gateway to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art through the annual festival, which was first run in 2015.

She said the festival attracted visitors from around Australia and the world and was also an important commercial opportunity for many of the artists.

“For Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people being able to showcase their works of art and having their art for sale is a really important part of their lives to survive and to continue making work and Tarnanthi provides that opportunity across many different levels,” Cumpston said.

“It’s also an opportunity for Australians and people from around the world to really gain an understanding of Aboriginal people and our culture.

“The artists are really pushing themselves, pushing their ideas and Tarnanthi is providing that opportunity through the support we can give financially but also through meeting people who can help them realise their ideas.”

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Ryan Presley, Marri Ngarr people, Northern Territory, born 1987, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, “Blood Money — Infinite Dollar Note — Dundalli, Commemorative”, 2018, Brisbane, watercolour on paper; Collection of Bernard Shafer, Image courtesy the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, © Ryan Presley, photo: Carl Warner.

The South Australian Museum, next door to AGSA on Adelaide’s cultural boulevard, North Terrace, is home to the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal material, culture and art.

The museum is hosting two exhibitions during Tarnanthi: Still in my mind: Gurindji location, experience and visuality and Kondoli: the Keeper of the Fire.

Still in my mind reflects on events preceding and following the seminal Gurindji Walk Off in 1966 — when Vincent Lingiari led over 200 countrymen, women and children off Wave Hill Station to protest slave labour conditions and human rights abuse.

Kondoli is a sculpture of a southern right whale woven from freshwater rushes created by Lead Senior Ngarrindjeri Weaver Aunty Ellen Trevorrow.

It tells the story of Kondoli, the ancestor who brought fire to the Ngarrindjeri people.

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Kondoli: the Keeper of Fire is a sculpture of a southern right whale woven entirely from freshwater rushes.

SA Museum Head of Humanities Professor John Carty said the giant woven whale was one of the most important pieces that had come into the museum in decades.

“Kondoli created jealousy. He was speared, he dived into the water and the spear wound became his spout and he became the whale,” Prof Carty said.

“It’s the story of this bringer of fire and we feel that Aunty Ellen and the Ngarrindjeri weavers have brought their created fire here to the South Australian Museum by weaving this extraordinary whale to share with everyone at Tarnanthi and it’s a very special gift.”

Tarnanthi: Festival of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art is presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia in partnership with BHP and with support from the Government of South Australia.

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