From the Kaurna language spoken on the Adelaide Plains, the word Tarnanthi Islander means to rise up or spring forth or appear. It informs the philosophy of this contemporary Aboriginal/ Torres Strait Islander Art Festival, which is headed by Nici Cumpston. This word is a sign of new thinking. Tarnanthi 2021 and its predecessors from 2015 are examples of this quality.
Cumpston’s approach towards exhibition-making is based upon dialogue and collaboration with artists. It delivers, challenging perceptions at many levels.
The scene is set by John Prince Siddon, Walmajarri artist. He walks down the steps to the main gallery space. His psychedelic desert pop imagery sets it all. A former stockman from Kimberley, he paints on the inside of kangaroo skins, bullock skulls and boab nuts. His canvas imagery is a mixture of the desert and the everyday and urgent social and political issues.
Although he calls it art all mix up, his images of animals, people and vehicles on the map of Australia with boat people waving to him touch a raw nerve about where our nation is. This is Australian art at its finest.
Senior Women Islander Artists
Katjarra Butler of the Ngaanyatjarra/Pintupi people in the Western Desert of Western Australia is one of the many senior women exhibiting.
Ara Katjarraku is her work. Butler shares her deep knowledge about the Tjukurrpa, or dreaming, that influenced her traditional lifestyle. The viewer is transported into a world of knowledge transfer, where her multi-coloured circular forms are symbolic of the sacred and ancient sites of Country and its ancestral beings.
Nyunmiti Burton, Anangu artist and director of the APY Council (Anangu Pitjantatjara Yankunytjara) is another senior woman. Seven Sisters (2020), her bold and energetic painting Seven Sisters, depicts an ancient story in which the eldest sibling protects the younger sisters from the threats of the outside world. Burton’s story about sisterhood is a sign of the leadership women can offer.
Yaritji is a senior lawyer and the traditional owner of Country around Amata. She depicts this in her energetic Tjala Tjukurpa (Honey any story) (2021). An ancient tale about the women who waited for their men with tjuratji, honey ants to feed them, was passed down to her father. Young’s vibrant and energetic painting depicts these tunnels and the changing colors of the desert.
Julie Gough, Trawlwoolway artist, is a standout in the exhibition. Her Psychoscape is an exhibit within an exhibition. Gough’s topic is the genocide against Lutruwita (Tasmanian’s) First Nations people during the Black Wars in the late 1820s/early 1830s.
She focuses on the palliative plight of the Palawa people, set against colonial furniture. An upturn chair is transform into a frame that allows for a dark shadow puppet scene, resembling Governor Arthur’s Proclamation Boards.
Another video shows Eugene Von Guerard’s Waterfall on Clyde River (1877), which she has captured islander via video of the waterfall, which was the scene of a massacre. The water turns briefly red before it is wash away and cleanse.
- Beautiful colonial artifacts from the 19th century, cleaned by Joseph Lycett
- No reference to Aboriginal peoples, romanticized by John Glover
- The reality of frontier violence juxtaposes the inclusion of Aboriginal peoples after their removal.
One wall has a musket, while two spears are position in the corner. They couldn’t save their people. The video projected on the ground evokes feelings like the chase and destabilizes the exhibition space, as though viewers are entering a crime scene.
Timo Hogan, Pitjantjatjara artist from Tjuntjuntjara, in the southeast part of Western Australia’s Great Victoria Desert is another star. His Country, Lake Baker is where he paints the ancestral. Story of Wanampi (the Watersnake Man) and Wati Kutjara (the Two Men). His large painting in whites, creamy ochres, and against a black background conveys the shifting terrain and dangers that the salt lake has allowed him to depict.