Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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HomeIssue 12For the leaves of the family tree

For the leaves of the family tree

If you want an injection of joy and optimism, if you want to see leadership in action, then go see Punu-ngura (From the Trees) at RAFT Artspace.
This is the second exhibition curated by artist Hector Tjupuru Burton to show at RAFT within 12 months. Both have had as their focus the future of the young people growing up in Amata in the APY Lands where the senior Pitjantjatjara man lives. The young people are the leaves of the Anangu family tree and each one is touchingly named in the show’s catalogue.
Frank Young, director of Tjala Arts, chairperson of the Amata community council and an artist himself, explains the Anangu concept of the family tree: “The Ancestors are the roots … us middle ones – the men and women who made these paintings – we are the trunk of the tree. The young fellas and young women, the future of our families are the leaves on the trees, and the leaves that are yet to be seen.”
In last year’s show the work presented included collaborative paintings involving some of the young men, an initiative by Mr Burton following the tragic death in a car accident of one of their number. In this show there is collaboration again but, while I understand that the young men are still painting and exhibiting work in group shows, these canvasses come from accomplished artists, some celebrated, some less well known. The power of their cultural conviction, respect for their Law and connection with family, can be felt in the profuse imagery and effervescent energy of the collaborations, in the brilliantly organised compositions rich in colour, in each spirited stroke of the brush or dotted field.
“With this exhibition we draw a line. We pull back and put a fence around our culture,” says Mr Young.
It’s a manifesto of the highest order.
It also is something of a breakthrough in work by weavers: their technique has been deployed with sculptural force, giving their tree forms strong structure and an upward thrusting energy, with the coloured yarns worked in to go in the same direction.
This work is presented as a collective installation, the Tjanpi Punu Story, and a statement from the women weavers claims the same kind of cultural significance for their trees as is evident in the paintings: they are “strong and full of story”.
They also assert their commitment to working together: “When we work together we can do anything.”
You leave this exhibition believing them.
Shows until this Saturday, 8 Hele Crescent, Alice Springs.
Pictured: Top, Untitled painting by Barney Wangin. • Above, The Tjanpi Punu Story. •  Below: Untitled painting by Tjunkura Ken.


  1. I thought the painting by Tjunkura Ken, reproduced in Kieran’s article, was easily the most intense, accomplished and impressive of the paintings; but the real breakthrough, as she points out, is the new wave of women’s weavings, also pictured above. Very much worth trying to see if you haven’t already caught it, before it finishes three days from now.


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