In this film of the project the “remarkable triumph”of Albert Namatjira's friendship with Rex Battarbee and what they achieved together takes second place to the story of the artist's financial legacy, which also seems to have raised false hopes amongst the descendants.
Many Hands Art Centre going through a restructure after royalties cease
It was a gratifying moment: a Helpmann Award trophy, won by the production Namatjira which told the story of their illustrious ancestor, was put into the hands of Kevin Namatjira and family yesterday. Namatjira won the Best Regional Touring Production category, against competition from the likes of Bell Shakespeare. But there was something further on the artists' minds yesterday: what will be the future of Ngurratjuta Iltja Ntjarra, also known as the Many Hands Art Centre? KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Laughter, more than tears, tells this foundation story of black-white relations.
What did we feel coming away from the show of the theatre production, Namatjira? That things will get better, that they are better – between black and white Australians and for Aboriginal people themselves. And this was despite the sad, even bleak last scenes that show the unrelenting pressures on famed Arrernte watercolour painter Albert Namatjira as he tried to manage his success in the white world and his position within his own large family and wider clan; and despite our recognition that these pressures in many ways are unchanged today.
So how better? By the very fact these two outstanding Aboriginal performers, Trevor Jamieson and Derek Lynch, and all their collaborators, are able to trace this foundation story of black-white relations through laughter, more than tears, and through a rich narrative, not ideology, sentiment and slogans. And by the fact that they have drawn sell-out houses around Australia; that 850 people, mostly remote community residents, traveled into Ntaria / Hermannsburg for the staging of the play there last Wednesday night; that Araluen sold out two shows on Saturday and could probably have sold out a third. We are hungry for this – being able to laugh at ourselves, at our collective foibles, clumsiness, ignorance as we deal with one another, being able to rejoice in the creativity and friendships that bridge the gaps. For the revelatory story of the show is the friendship (much more than mentorship) between Namatjira and the World War I veteran turned artist Rex Battarbee – the ways that art opened up possibilities for them both, became the bridge between them and the ground for a friendship that endured. KIERAN FINNANE reviews.
Pictured: Derek Lynch (left) and Trevor Jamieson, with artists from the Namatjira family in the background. Photo by Grant McIntyre, courtesy Big hART.