"Another year has passed and here we are again ... we started off quite small ... and we all grew up together, didn't we?" with these words Nyurpaya Kaika-Burton launched the 25th Desert Mob. KIERAN FINNANE reviews the region's flagship exhibition.
There’s the art and there’s the mob. You don’t get one without the other and in many way Desert Mob has always carried a message of ‘This is who we are’, even if for the outsider the message has often, even mostly, been beautifully opaque. Many artists have told us to not “try to see behind the veil” but others are availing themselves of a range of means to invite us in, on their terms. KIERAN FINNANE reports on her experience of Desert Mob 2014.
The old men from Amata stole the show. It wasn't just their charisma but their focus – the young people of their community – and their enquiring and imaginative outlook. Frank Young, Hector Burton and Ray Ken spoke to their ideas and work at the Desert Mob symposium on Friday. Willy Kaika and Barney Wangin were present in the auditorium and the men were joined on stage by a collaborator, the much younger installation artist Jonathan Jones, a Wiradjuri man from NSW.
The men are still painting – all of them except Young have work in the Desert Mob exhibition – but they have also turned their attention to teaching their young men to make their traditional weapons, kulata (spears) and spear-throwers. As they worked they saw "how strong and powerful" the weapons would look in their art work, said Young, director of Tjala Arts and chairman of the community, who translated for the other men. They began to imagine a room in a gallery "full of spears, thousands of spears".
KIERAN FINNANE reports from Desert Mob, the symposium and the exhibition.
Pictured, from left: Jonathan Jones, Ray Ken, Hector Burton and Frank Young. In the photograph behind them, Willy Kaika (left) with Burton.
What really got the weavers going was thinking about the nature of eagles, how they care for their families. They were camped not far from Amata, the home community for several of them, in the APY Lands of South Australia's far north and were working on a commission from Tandanya, the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide.
Nyurpaya Kaika-Burton's husband would come along to the camp every day and bring the women meat, including the favoured bush turkey. They ate the flesh and used the feathers in their weaving. Nyurpaya would think her husband was just like an eagle that goes out hunting meat for his whole family.
Hunting is what the eagle does best, he is an expert hunter and great provider – that's what the women like about eagles, what they admire in them.
"Our good men are just like the good eagles, they bring the meat home."
Several of the Tjanpi weavers travelled into Alice Springs, to speak at a forum on Monday about experimentation and innovation in desert arts. The presence of a skilled translator, Linda Rive, and the stimulus of a slide show that documented their artists' camp and the development of the work, allowed them to relate in rich detail their experience of this commission, with the final work currently showing at Tandanya.
What was particularly compelling was to hear about the thinking behind the work: their woven birds are much more than objects to delight the eye. They draw on the strength of their ancient culture and its lessons for everyday living, perhaps never so poignantly relevant as now.
KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured, top: Tjanpi weavers from Amata with their finished 'big birds', from left Nyurpaya Kaika, Yaritji Young, Paniny Mick (obscured), Ilawanti Ken and Naomi Kantjuriny. • At right: An eagle brings home the meat for its young. Painting by Ilawanti Ken. Photos courtesy Tjanpi Desert Weavers.
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."
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. – KIERAN FINNANE