Post-NATSIAAs » Indigenous Art Directory

While the Telstra NATSIAA understandably grabbed the headlines with their $100,000 main prize awarded to a mighty Milingimbi woven sail and an additional $90,000 in prizes supporting the indigenous art economy and making prizes the most nation’s grand prix d’art, there are actually many other reasons why people engaged in First Nations culture and art industry need to be in Darwin in August every year.

For starters, there were eight other Aboriginal art exhibitions – many individual exhibitions – and the country’s largest art fair to excite the phagocytes. But new this year was the series of eight panel discussions organized by Agency Projects of Melbourne during which many of the hot topics of the day were discussed. The governance and economics of remote art centers were discussed, as were political art and the rise of the international Aboriginal art scene. Of course, the series began with a Welcome to Country – and it became apparent then and on many other occasions that the local Larrakia crowd really grew in popularity over the two years in which many of us couldn’t make it to Darwin. The Cubillo/Lee ​​family — as they call themselves — are proud.

I’ve only handled two of The Agency’s “Untold” sessions – but I’ve certainly been told a lot! Most controversial was a surprising resistance to the benefits of sponsorship by the main beneficiaries of this support. For example, Nici Cumpston, the curator who made Adelaide’s Tarnanthi Festival such a huge success, actually found her sponsorship by a mining company “troubling”. But as she went on to agree that prior to BHP’s arrival at the party, the Art Gallery of SA only had funds to buy one piece of art a year and that since 2008 its funding Tarnanthi “had changed the whole image of Aboriginal art”, it seemed the lady protested too much.

But then came the equally counterproductive statement from Sally Scales, artist and president of the APY Art Center collective. She wasn’t going to give Telstra NATSIAA sponsors the recognition that their official co-title offers; “It’s just NATSIAA for me.” How much money has its APY artists brought home in the 31 uninterrupted years Telstra has paid for prizes – which the impoverished NT museum and art gallery could never have racked up? And to what extent does the prestige of the event (and of Tarnanthi) depend on these corporate funds?

Interestingly, this out-of-the-world position (perhaps politically correct is a better descriptor) has not been extended to Wesfarmers sponsors, whose funding for training programs for indigenous curators at the National Gallery has now benefited more than 120 former students – some of whom were now ‘Unspeakable‘ panelists. And the benefits of their networking both nationally and, increasingly, internationally, have clearly paid off.

The curator of the Melbourne Museum, Kimberley Moulton, for example, offered us an experience of Bangladesh in Winnipeg, without forgetting the “decolonization of the Norwegian pavilion by Sami” at the Venice Biennale. And Dr. Jilda Andrews of the ANU, hailed the efforts of the American Kluge/Ruhe Museum to “create space for Yolngu thought” in organizing ‘Madayeen‘, his major bark exhibition set to take the United States by storm. “We have to go global to impress Australia,” she said; “that’s the next step – selling the domestic yarn”.

For an event organized by a group called Agency Projects, the agency of individual artists working outside of community art centers was not a priority. It has been suggested, for example, that the National Gallery is devaluing all indigenous works in its collection that do not have provenance from an art centre. This will no doubt have an effect on the secondary market – though that certainly can’t include Emily Kngwarreye, who somehow managed a successful career without ever being associated with an art center. And didn’t the NGA pay top dollar for a Rover Thomas job from dealership Mary Macha???

And it is quite clear that the NATSIAAs do not accept works of art from outside the network of art centers. Which could, by the way, extend to NSW if Senior Curator Djon Mundine has his way. He could get support from Kimberley Moulton, who shared her distress at seeing the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair card “with a big gap in the south-east corner. We just don’t seem to be authentic enough there to be in that space,” she said.

Aren’t you saying there’s a chasm between the urban conservatives and the classic art that reigns in Darwin?

And it certainly ruled the shows around town. While the annual collective exhibition of the two Tiwi Islands art centers seemed stronger than ever, the absolute stars were Barayuwa Mununggurr and Timo Hogan. Yolngu Munuggurr man painted ‘Garapana‘, the reef created by the stone knives his ancestors threw into the sea after killing their whale brother Mirinyungu. The reef is guarded by the octopus, Ngarrapiya. Etching this complexity onto repurposed aluminum signage and achieving an irresistible beauty that sold every work on offer suggests an undeniable aesthetic mastery.

Timo Hogan, on the other hand, is simply thinking big, but only about Baker Lake. The Spinifex man won the Big Telstra last year and was commissioned to create a triptych for Tarnanthi. In Darwin, he fills an entire gallery with images of this “dangerously sacred” lake in a way that evokes associations with Houston’s famous Rothko Chapel. The little artist was eclipsed by his wall-high black-and-white creations, streaked only occasionally with the colors of the battles between the lake’s resident blind water serpent, Wanampiku, and Two Man Songline heroes, Wati Kutjara. They too have all been sold.

The art business is doing well. don’t waste it


Artist: Nici Cumpston, Sally Scales, Emily Kngwarreye, Rover Thomas, Barayuwa Mununggurr, Timo Hogan,

Art Fair , Art Prize , Australia , Blog , Conference , Event , Exhibition , Reportage , Festival , Industry , News ,

Key words:
Agency projects, Barayuwa Mununggurr, BHP, corporate sponsorship, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, emily kngwarreye, Jeremy Eccles, Jilda Andrews, Kimberley Moulton, Larrakia mob, nici cumpston, rover thomas, Sally Scales, Telstra NATSIAAs, Timo Hogan, Wesfarmers,

Christopher S. Washington