Aboriginal artists return to renowned workshop in Mittagong

Posted December 14, 2017 16:52:04

It was the early 1970s when five young women from the remote Ernabella community in South Australia travelled from the deep desert to the lush Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

There they undertook a ground-breaking weaving residency at the Sturt Workshop in Mittagong.

Now, nearly 50 years later, a group of Ernabella artists, including one of the original women, has returned to the Sturt Workshop to showcase their vibrant art.

The exhibition, In These Hands, also marks the 70-year anniversary of Ernabella Arts, the oldest Indigenous art centre in Australia.

No time to be homesick

Wandering through the grounds of the Sturt Gallery, Atipalku Intjalku recalls her experience as a wide-eyed teenage girl out of her community for the first time to attend the 1972 residency.

“I’m remembering all the people that helped me, and the good times that we had here at Sturt,” Intjalku said.

“Was I homesick? Simply put, no.

“There was so much to learn, everything was new and exciting, everything was different — the trees, the food, the weather, the people and even what we wore!

“I was here for a long time, a few months, learning to weave on a new kind of loom, and a different kind of coloured wool, not the plain white and grey fleece wool that we used from the shearers in Ernabella.”

Historic connection

The sister relationship between Ernabella and Sturt was forged from a chance meeting at the Spinners and Weavers Association in Sydney in the mid to late 1960s.

Winifred Hilliard, Ernabella’s craft room advisor, and artist Nyukama (Daisy) Baker were in town attending an Association workshop.

Sturt’s master weaver Elisabeth Nagel, who was also present, was intrigued by the pair and by Baker’s art.

Their initial conversations sparked a lifelong friendship between the three women and forged the unique relationship between the two art centres.

In 1968, at Ms Hilliard’s invitation, Nagel travelled by mail plane from Alice Springs to the missionary community of Ernabella, on APY Lands, surrounded by stunning desert country.

Nagel was impressed by the work coming out of the art centre, and by the spirit of the community, and hatched a plan to have some of the young Ernabella women come to the Sturt workshop to extend their knowledge and skills in weaving.

Creativity blossomed with confidence

Slavica Zivkovic, co-curator of the In These Hands exhibition, spoke with a now elderly Nagel to gain an insight into the residencies that took place in 1971 and 1972.

“Elisabeth Nagel recalled that the young Ernabella women were immediately delighted by the great skeins of colourful commercial wool hanging in the studio,” Ms Zivkovic said.

“At first, Nagel’s weaving instructions were purely about technique — such as warping that required accurate counting methods — and the young women needed constant support.

“But as the young artists slowly grew with quiet confidence, their creativity blossomed.

“In the evening, the artists would do their coloured-pencil Walka drawings — patterns based on their surroundings.

“These would be translated into tapestries and floor rugs, incorporating a thread palette selected by the artists.

“The young artists became very much a part of the Sturt family and for Nagel, the residencies were not just about teaching techniques, but encouraging self-development and acceptance of culture.”

Intjalka has her own fond memories of Nagel from the 1972 residency.

“Miss Nagel looked after us the whole time,” she said.

“She taught us weaving and we taught her a little of our own language, Pitjantjara.

“On the weekends, sometimes we travelled by train to Sydney, we went to the harbour and caught a boat to the zoo.”

Australia’s oldest Indigenous arts centre

The skills and life experience the young artists gained at Sturt helped to shape the direction of Ernabella Arts, and continue to have influence as their knowledge is passed onto the next generation.

Original Sturt residency weaver Atipalku Intjalka has been accompanied on her return trip by several Ernabella artists who are visiting their sister arts centre for the first time.

They include ceramicist and exhibition co-curator Alison Milyika Carroll, ceramicist Lynette Lewis, and current chair of Ernabella Arts Tjunkaya Tapaya.

Tapaya is quietly proud of Ernabella Arts’ achievements.

“The Ernabella craft room started in 1948, the year before I was born, and it was the first art centre of its kind in Australia,” she said.

“When it first started it was only for women, and they were spinning sheep wool and making rugs and as I watched on as a little girl, I decided that would be the work I would do when I grew up.

“Then a new craft room was built, and then the young girls, young boys, and men started coming in to learn art and learning from the old people.

“Over the years, Ernabella artists have created work using many different materials and methods, including weaving, fibre arts, ceramics, and now painting as well.”

Art carries stories for next generation

As they move the through the Sturt Gallery, getting a sneak preview of the exhibition, the visiting Ernabella artists reflect on their art works.

Both Intjalka and Tapaya practice Tjanpi weaving, using natural desert grasses, seeds and feathers, together with commercially-bought raffia, string, and wool to create dioramas and large-scale installation sculptures.

“In the missionary time, we’d all go to church so I’m remembering this time from when I was a kid,” Tapaya said of a beautiful little church she has crafted.

Carroll said she feels it is all about the stories contained within the art.

“Telling stories, you know, stories, Tjukurpa,” she said.

“When we paint, and weave, and make art, we talk to the young people about Tjukurpa, dreamtime stories, and the stories are in the canvas and ceramics.

“Now it’s getting big for young people to work and learn about arts.

“When we’re gone, the art centre will be still there for our young people to make beautiful things for our future — the young people.”

In These Hands, Celebrating 70 Years of Ernabella Arts, runs at the Sturt Gallery in Mittagong until February 11, 2018.

Topics: contemporary-art, visual-art, arts-and-entertainment, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, indigenous-culture, community-and-society, library-museum-and-gallery, art-history, women, ernabella-0872, mittagong-2575, alice-springs-0870, sydney-2000

‘I am shaking with horror’: Council accidentally removes disability pride mural

Updated December 05, 2017 19:25:56

A council in Melbourne’s inner-west has been forced to apologise, after graffiti contractors removed a newly installed mural which it partly funded to pay tribute to the area’s disabled community.

The disability pride mural was installed about a week ago on the Footscray Exchange building and took hundreds of hours to complete.

But on Monday night the artwork’s coordinator, Larissa MacFarlane, discovered the mural had been removed.

“This blatant act of contempt, epitomises the way that people with disabilities are treated in this country,” Ms MacFarlane wrote on her Facebook page.

“Many people involved in this artwork, shared that this was the first time they had felt pride in themselves.

“For some people it was their first time identifying as disabled, because they already know the deeply entrenched and discriminating ableism in this country.

“I am appalled. I am devastated. I am shaking with horror.”

Her post has gained traction on social media and was shared 150 times.

“The days’ theme was ‘leave no-one behind’ and I guess that’s already been disregarded,” wrote one user.

“That’s a bloody outrage,” wrote another. “I was going to go and have a look this weekend, guess that won’t be happening. What disgusting behaviour.”

On Tuesday night, the chief executive of Maribyrnong City Council, Stephen Wall, owned up.

“We sincerely apologise to Ms McFarlane and all the artists involved in the installation,” he said.

“We fully support their work and all that it represented, and are embarrassed by this unfortunate mistake.

“Our graffiti contractors removed the installation and we will be meeting with them to review the current procedures.”

Ms McFarlane said she was looking at ways to replace the artwork.

Topics: contemporary-art, community-organisations, local-government, maribyrnong-3032, melbourne-3000, vic

First posted December 05, 2017 18:59:56

MONA founder David Walsh does a Willy Wonka

Updated December 03, 2017 10:44:41

He’s famously referred to himself as God, but David Walsh is definitely playing the role of Willy Wonka in his latest venture at MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart

The eccentric millionaire art collector and museum owner has organised for 1200 homes in the Berriedale area, surrounding MONA, to have blocks of chocolate dropped in the letter boxes.

The “Walshie Bars” are a play on the “Wonka Bar” in the Roald Dahl’s children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

And like the story, a small number of these bars contain “a golden ticket”.

Forty of the 1,200 bars contain a “golden ticket” — admission for two to the gala opening of MONA’s new $30-million gallery wing, called Pharos, on Tuesday, December 19.

The gallery has room for only 80 people at a time, so the opening is being staggered over five nights.

One hundred and forty tickets were offered to the public to two of the nights at a cost of $500 a head.

So the chocolate bar lottery really is a golden ticket.

On the back of the chocolate bar, Mr Walsh explained that it was meant as a thank you to his neighbours for putting up with the building work at the MONA site.

“You may have noticed I’ve been building an extension at my place,” the bar reads.

“This is Pharos, Mona’s new wing. I’m pleased to say it will be open on Saturday 23 December. I hope to see you there, sometime.

“As a fellow Berridale local, I’d like to thank you for your patience while we build Pharos. And actually, I’d like to thank you for putting up with our shenanigans generally.

“Not everybody likes MONA. But, in my experience, everybody likes chocolate. Please enjoy this small token of my appreciation. It’s literally the least I can do.”

The new gallery is named after the Pharos of Alexandria, the lighthouse built for Ptolemy I Soter in about 280BC.

It extends over the Derwent River and houses four works by James Turrell and one each by Richard Wilson, Jean Tinguely, Randy Polumbo and Charles Ross.

The Richard Wilson work is believed to be his world-famous 20:50. The piece has been on display in London’s Saatchi Gallery since 1991 — the only permanent installation art gallery.

It has also been shown at MOCA in Los Angeles in 1994, and the Australian National Gallery in Canberra in 1996.

Richard Wilson’s website describes the piece.

“The gallery is filled to waist height with recycled engine oil, from which the piece takes its name,” the website reads.

“A walk way leads from a single entrance, leading the viewer into the space until they are surrounded by oil on all sides. The impenetrable, reflective surface of the oil mirrors the architecture of the room exactly, placing the viewer at the mid-point of a symmetrical visual plane.”

MONA said medical waivers needed to be signed to see some of the art.

The new extension also contains a new bar and restaurant.

Topics: contemporary-art, community-and-society, arts-and-entertainment, berriedale-7011

First posted December 03, 2017 10:04:57

How a traumatic brain injury birthed an artist (and a passion for handstands)

Posted November 24, 2017 11:06:32

After a car accident left her with a traumatic brain injury, Larissa MacFarlane started to see the world differently.

Things like buildings, colours and flowers had taken on an unfamiliar shape. Her interests had shifted too.

She had been an avid reader, but had to relearn how to read. She’d loved music, but suddenly found music difficult to comprehend.

Instead, she discovered an interest in art.

“Before my brain injury I actually had no interest in visual art at all. I wagged art at school. I hated art,” she says.

“It’s like my brain took out the music bit and put in this visual art bit.”

MacFarlane says it was like being reborn. She has memories of her life before, but now has a different personality, identity, thoughts, feelings and abilities.

Managing her brain injury through handstands

MacFarlane was only able to start making art after securing housing, which took about seven years, and her initial work was concerned with her new home in Melbourne’s west.

While art is her main occupation, she considers managing her brain injury as another part-time job — as she deals with her fatigue and chronic pain through visits to the pool and other daily rituals.

Since 2004, one of the most important rituals has been doing handstands.

Inspired by a footballer’s post-goal handstand, she decided to set herself the aim of doing a handstand. It became a beacon of joy to reach for.

“I really thought this was going to help me, it was going to cure me of my brain injury,” she says.

MacFarlane lacked both strength and co-ordination. But with some help from a friend and the monkey bars at the park, she eventually got there.

“It took me months … I wrote in my journal: ‘I will do a handstand, I will do a handstand,’ every day for four months,” she says.

Success came on her 35th birthday, about 13 years ago — and almost every day since then she’s done a handstand.

Little wins all the time

For years she did her handstands in secret, in stairwells and alleyways and toilets.

While she walks and stands with the help of a walking stick, doing a handstand relieves her of the pain in her feet and legs.

“I’m actually using them [the handstands] to manage pain and … distress and I’m using them to give myself grounding,” she says.

MacFarlane lives with trauma, but by doing handstands she faces down terror every day.

“I’m just challenging the sort of fear I live with in my life on a daily basis. I get to challenge it and I get to have little wins all the time,” she says.

“I also want to challenge that stereotype of disability that says that you can’t do anything. People with disabilities have amazing skills and one of my amazing skills is doing handstands.”

Sharing her handstands with the world

What started as a private ritual later became a source of artistic exploration.

First, she began documenting the places around Melbourne she had done handstands — creating a kind of map of all the places she could do them in.

McFarlane says she eventually realised she’d been hiding her handstands, out of embarrassment that she still had to manage her brain injury.

“There is so much shame and stigma around disability,” she says.

“People with disabilities internalise that shame, so we’re ashamed of who we are. I extended that to this amazing thing called handstands — I was hiding them.”

In order to move forward, McFarlane says, she needed to be proud of what she did.

So she began taking photos of herself doing handstands, then blowing them up in black and white, and pasting them on street walls “to leave a mark — this is where I did a handstand and this is where I’ll be back”.

Education, access, value, and portrayal

MacFarlane wants to untangle the challenges facing artists with disabilities, including the widespread devaluation of their work, and the accessibility of educational institutions.

While studying visual arts at TAFE, she was encouraged to remove any mention of her brain injury in her artist statement, and told that including her disability would make her work less valued.

“I look back [at that] with horror, but I carried that with me for so long, because I really thought I needed to not refer to my brain injury,” she says.

“But it didn’t make sense, because I am only an artist because of my brain injury. I mean, that’s like the gift of [my] brain injury.”

MacFarlane sees people with disabilities too often portrayed as either an inspiration or as a tragedy, but her work asks the viewer to see beyond these two stereotypes.

Her artwork, most of which involves handstands, is now on display at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, contemporary-art, street-art, visual-art, disabilities, footscray-3011

Making a living as an artist in Australia not as easy as it used to be

Posted November 13, 2017 07:52:10

People may pursue the arts for love not money, but how do Australian artists pay their bills?

Key points:

  • An Australian artists works a 45-hour week in general
  • Artists are required to supplement their income from other jobs
  • Women artists earn 44 per cent less than men for their creative work

The Australia Council for the Arts has released new research which shows the average income of a practising professional artist in Australia declined by about 4 per cent between 2008 and 2015.

The report shows in the 2014-2015 financial year artists earned a gross income of $48,400 on average. That was way below the average income of $77,121 but above the poverty line of $22,167.

But to earn that the artists had to supplement their income from other jobs.

Sydney sculptor Sophie Clague knows too well the challenges.

The 29-year-old has been forced to take a full-time receptionist job to make ends meet.

“As an artist, the sporadic nature of the income is a real worry. You can sort of scrimp and save and live in a warehouse but you’re not going to be putting anything away for the future because everything you earn you’re using for living expenses,” she said.

Sophie earned about $24,000 last year from a combination of selling artworks, receiving grants and winning an award.

But over the years she’s worked as a waitress and in galleries to help pay the bills.

“I do worry about my financial security in the future,” she said.

Despite the worries Sophie is determined and spends her weekends and spare time in the studio.

“I can’t imagine not sculpting,” she said.

The report’s author, economist David Throsby from Macquarie University said it was harder to be an artist in Australia than it used to be.

“They’re spending more time at the creative work and getting less return for it and so that is something which we observe and which is quite a worry,” he said.

Professor Throsby surveyed writers, visual artists, craft practitioners, actors, directors, dancers, choreographers, musicians, singers, composers, songwriters, and community cultural development artists.

‘You’ve got to bite off more than you can chew’

Jess Ciampa is a musician who hasn’t had a day off for three months, and won’t get one until January.

“If I wasn’t earning a living purely from playing I’d think twice about taking some of those jobs, but as a freelance musician you’ve got to bite off more than you can chew and chew like crazy, there’s just no other way to do it,” he said.

Jess has worked as a percussionist for 30 year and has been making money solely from music for the last decade.

Even though his calendar is full, he said the gigs were drying up.

“It’s quite stressful being in a job where you’ve got to do lots of different things to actually make a living,” she said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever considered quitting ‘cos I can’t imagine doing anything else.

“But I have considered, when January and February comes around and things are a bit slow, I often think maybe I should put my name down for some casual teaching at schools.”

Gender pay gap wider in the arts

The gender pay gap is especially wide in the arts. Women artists earned 32 per cent less than men overall and 44 per cent less for their creative work.

“The pay gap for artists is worse than in the general workforce and there’s no obvious reason why that should be the case,” Professor Thorsby said.

“In fact, in some ways one might think there would be more equality in the arts because the arts is a sort [of] socially progressive sector of the economy, and you would have thought that it might be that they might be doing more to overcome the discrimination for women artists.”

Sophie has been aware of the pay gap for years.

“I think male artists, when they’re pricing their work, maybe they’re more confident in putting it for a higher price and that’s something even with my work I always under-price my work and then people are like ‘No, you have to make it more than that’,” she said.

“I think younger guy artists just seem to be more confident so maybe they put themselves out there a bit more.

“Even in commercial galleries, if you look at most commercial galleries in Sydney anyway, they’re still overwhelmingly made up of male artists in their stable.”

The gender pay gap could explain why more female artists in relationships than male said their partner’s income was important to them.

Sophie said she’s considered that maybe she wouldn’t have children due to her low income.

“Do you wait until you’re a bit more established? But then, you might never get established,” she said.

Big changes over 30 years

Professor Throsby has been conducting this survey since 1983 and has seen a lot of change over that time.

“One of the most obvious is the casualisation of the artistic workforce. About 80 per cent [of] artists are freelance, whereas 30 years ago many, many more would have been employees and would have had some prospect of a continuing job,” he said.

Over his career, Jess has observed that some organisations that used to hire musicians as staff increasingly began hiring them as sub-contractors, meaning they stopped getting superannuation and had to organise their own public liability insurance.

He estimates he earned about $50,000 last year. He doesn’t have much superannuation and his retirement plan may end up being selling the huge number of instruments filling his garage.

Professor Throsby’s report shows increasingly artists do have superannuation or some other means of future financial security, such as personal savings and investments or support, from a partner or family.

The number without any arrangements have fallen dramatically since the previous survey, from 14 per cent to 5 per cent.

However, Professor Throsby said it was worrying that four out of 10 artists did not consider their arrangements to be adequate.

The Australia Council CEO Tony Grybowski said it was a concern that Professor Throsby’s research highlights increasing challenges to maintaining a viable career as a professional artist in Australia.

“If we want Australian stories to keep being told and Australia’s diverse artistic talent to succeed locally and internationally, we must consider the support structures, protections and remuneration of Australian artists,” he said.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, contemporary-art, work, community-and-society, sydney-2000

Abandoned cars in desert turned into ‘ghostly’ works of art

Updated November 06, 2017 08:58:21

The roads of the remote APY lands, which straddle the Northern Territory–South Australian border, are strewn with abandoned and rusting cars, but one artist has turned these forgotten objects into a canvas.

Robert Fielding is also helping to redefine what Indigenous art looks like.

He has produced a series of long-exposure photographs of the old vehicles, which he has painted with reflective materials and lit up with tealight candles.

“I’m salvaging what belonged to the elders of our communities, throughout the APY Lands and from Indulkana and Mimili … and bringing these cars to life,” he said.

“[This car] belongs to somebody, and it belongs to the artist also, which is I, but it belongs to the family members who know who this vehicle is.”

Artist turns to new digital media to experiment

Mr Fielding is an established artist in the APY Lands, winning the work on paper category in the esteemed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards this year, and in 2015.

He has also held solo exhibitions in Adelaide and Melbourne, and has work in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

But now he is experimenting with digital mediums, in a way that many Australians would not associate with art from remote Indigenous communities.

“The reason I like new media is the camera is a tool that Indigenous people are very strong and proud to be in front and behind the lens,” he said.

He has painted about a dozen cars around his community of Mimili, on the eastern side of the APY Lands.

The photographs of the cars are all taken at night with exposures of around 30 seconds.

“I’m lighting them up with tealight candles and giving it another feeling and another ghostly effect with what’s going on,” Mr Fielding said.

“There’s a light within this vehicle that’s hidden in crevices throughout.”

Topics: contemporary-art, arts-and-entertainment, visual-art, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, community-and-society, alice-springs-0870, sa

First posted November 06, 2017 08:22:42

Stories of regional Australia projected onto landscape along Murrumbidgee River

Posted October 28, 2017 16:08:00

On the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, the town of Narrandera has played an important role in the agricultural life of Australia with its rich pastoral land.

As a major travelling stock route the town became famous for transporting goods and produce, as well as the stories that linked the Riverina communities.

A new art installation called Shadow Places is set to highlight those stories as it stretches for a kilometre along the famous route featuring a spectacular display of lights, sound and textiles.

Audiences walking along the route can take in 15 different artworks, including video and light installations projected onto hay bales and trees.

Artistic Director of The CAD Factory Vic McEwan said the exhibition was inspired by the work of Australian environmental philosopher Val Plumwood who described Shadow Places as locations that we rely on, but don’t really know.

“The project is shining a spotlight on the importance of food and fibre production to Australia but also internationally,” he said.

“But also to say amongst that, there’s people, there’s a human story.”

Art exhibition years in the making

The event has been two years in the making, originally commissioned by the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Beryl Brain from the group said it was formed to better recognise women’s contribution to the land.

“It was started through women of the land wanting to get together and empower themselves and increase their knowledge and also network with other people of like minds.”

One of the video artworks by Wiradjuri elder Lorraine Tye tells the story of the creation of the Murrumbidgee River through the goanna — the local totem.

“How the Murrumbidgee got its name was through the strong goanna women,” she said.

“It’s so connected to country with art and art does connect people to country.”

Aim of the project is ‘communication’

Other artworks include hay bale projections designed by local school students, telling their stories about growing up on the land.

“It really tells the story of their life — their perspective of rural life.

“What it means to be growing up in an area that’s somewhat isolated,” Mr McEwan said.

“Those sorts of materials that they use — hay bales for example, which they see as very practical — all of a sudden they’re seeing them as a way that a story is being told and that something’s being shared with their community.”

The words of Wagga Wagga poet David Gilbey skim across the ripples of the water, accompanied by the natural soundscape.

“We went to install some sound just to accompany it but we noticed hidden under that water are just so many frogs that are just singing this song every night that we decided it would be easier for the frogs to do the soundtrack every night for that site,” Mr McEwan said.

But he resists comparisons to Vivid, the big artistic light show in the city.

“None of this work’s really about a wow factor… it’s really about slow ways of sharing deep stories that have come out of deep and long processes with people here,” Mr McEwan said.

“What the real aim of a project like this is, is it’s kind of about communication.

“It’s about allowing a space where people can talk about some of the issues that are confronting us about life in regional Australia.”

Topics: contemporary-art, arts-and-entertainment, street-art, visual-art, regional, narrandera-2700