Record $2.1m sale of Indigenous woman’s artwork highlights gender gap

Posted November 17, 2017 16:53:13

The record sale of an artwork by an Australian woman has drawn attention to the gap between male and female artists in the industry.

Few Australians may have heard of Emily Kngwarreye, but her painting, Earth’s Creation 1, sold for $2.1 million at auction in Sydney last night.

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an images of a person who has died.

Local buyers bid against international collectors placing offers over the phone for the six-metre by three-metre piece at the Cooee Art Gallery in Paddington.

The largest amount ever handed over for a work by an Australia artist is the $4.1 million paid for Sidney Nolan’s First Class Marksman in 2010.

Kirsty Neilson, an Australian artist whose work was last year exhibited at the Archibald Prize, said the sale marked a significant moment.

“Obviously with the history, I just think it’s a very important moment, and especially because this female artist didn’t become and artist until much later on in her life,” Ms Neilson said.

“I think [that’s] great, that you can just do this at any age. And if you’re an artist, that’s who you are and it’s a part of who you are.

“I love that she started something new later in her life and she created I think it was 3,000 pieces in her short eight-year career.”

Ms Neilson said the sum paid for the work highlights the pay gap between men and women artists is, slowly but surely, starting to be bridged.

“The Archibald Prize has been going on for about 95 years, and yet there’s only been I think eight or nine female winners throughout their entire 95-year span,” she said.

“Most have been in the last 10 to 15 years, so there has definitely been a real shift in Australian contemporary art.”

Artist seen as a ‘home-grown Monet’

The world-famous Earth’s Creation 1, Ms Kngwarreye’s masterpiece, was painted two years before her death in 1994.

It takes its inspiration from Utopia in the central desert of the Northern Territory, 230 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs.

The painting’s sale has drawn attention to the global appetite for work by Australian Indigenous artists.

Cooee Art Gallery collector Adrian Newstead said the artwork was the most significant work by Ms Kngwarreye still in private hands.

“It is a masterpiece, a cacophony of colour. Those of you who have had the good fortune to see it will not be able to help to be enamoured with the painting,” Mr Newstead said.

“It is a grand gestural painting with incredible movement and energy and verve. The colours are amazing — duck-egg yellow and fabulous blues, turquoise.”

Ms Kngwarreye’s artwork has been shown at art galleries around the world, including the Venice Biennale and the National Museum of Australia.

Mr Newstead said the artist has been compared to renowned abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.

“It really is a stunning painting, and one of those paintings that resulted in the press constantly referring to Emily as a home-grown Monet,” he said.

Topics: painting, indigenous-culture, australia

The challenge of making music in remote communities

Posted November 12, 2017 09:00:00

It was no secret that Indigenous band Lonely Boys were playing on borrowed instruments when they supported Queens of the Stone Age earlier this year.

Although they were sharing a stage with one of contemporary rock music’s biggest acts, musicians from remote communities are for the most part used to sharing.

And the healthy local music scenes of these communities — where lyrics send positive messages and are often recorded in local languages — have begun to catch the ears of east coast tastemakers.

“It just feels like the Territory scene is on the up,” Mark Smith, executive director of peak body Music NT, said.

“Having 10 bands at Nannup [Music Festival] last year and four bands showcasing at BIGSOUND this year — that really hasn’t happened before.”

But when it comes to the challenges remote bands face, their issues are far removed from the east coast.

“I’m a drummer in Darwin, and even if you bust a skin, sometimes the shop here might not have it so you have to order from interstate,” Mr Smith said.

The wait and cost can be extensive for remote locations, so Music NT has been raising money to address the logistical headache of providing such areas with access to musical equipment.

“That’s the main issue — whether it’s a broken drum skin, it’s snapped sticks, it’s broken strings, then it can more often lead to those instruments getting put aside,” Mr Smith said.

“The opportunity to perform and get better just gets lost.”

The show must go on

At the Bush Bands Bash — an annual concert of Indigenous bands held in Alice Springs — groups are increasingly turning up with their own equipment.

But there are still occasions when they arrive with nothing and have to borrow.

“If they haven’t got a guitar that’s not going to stop them,” Mr Smith said.

The challenge of delivering new gear to these communities is a complex one.

In the lead-up to a recent concert in the Gibson Desert community of Kiwirrkurra, organisers had to hire equipment from Alice Springs.

“There was a special concert happening and the boys had been given some money to put on a really good show,” supplier Darren Rumbal said.

The dearest part wasn’t going to be hiring the equipment, but getting it freighted for long distances on unsealed roads.

“I think it worked out cheaper to just buy the gear,” Mr Rumbal said.

Councils, community stores stocking up

Some local councils have begun putting in large orders for shared equipment to reduce these large, once-off shipping costs.

“But if you’re a guitarist in a band and suddenly your D string snaps and you just want to get that, it’s a whole other story,” Mr Smith said.

For individual deliveries, bands have been known to call upon the ‘Bush Bus’.

The bus ferries people to and from remote communities surrounding Alice Springs, including to the APY Lands community of Wingellina, where Irrunytju Band is based.

The band supported Midnight Oil at its Darwin show last month.

Frontman Chris Reid said the band mostly used other instruments or gear while they waited for new bits and pieces to arrive.

Elsewhere, community stores have also begun purchasing supplies.

The big industry names that increasingly take part in Bush Bands Business — a skills development camp for remote bands that culminates with the Bush Bands Bash — are also looking to change things.

“We had Drew [Goddard] from Karnivool and Brian [Ritchie] from the Violent Femmes this year and they both said ‘We’ve got existing relationships with [music suppliers]’,” Mr Smith said.

The musicians are looking into whether these relationships could be used to leverage a direct supply model and make sure large-scale music events are well-equipped.

The turn to digital

Skinnyfish Music is getting ready for a zenith in streaming services expected in the next few years.

This could be good news for the record label that represents Lonely Boys alongside a swag of Indigenous music acts, because they are used to turning down potentially lucrative live music gigs.

Why? Flights are expensive, and groups often have up to five or six members.

Shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane come with a price tag upwards of $10,000.

“All of these guys work four or five times as hard as a mainstream band in Melbourne to be able to go on a basic tour,” label co-founder Michael Hohnen said.

This means streaming services are shaping up as a key tool to help bands grow their audience beyond the communities where support is already strong.

The future of music

The bands have been receptive to the idea.

Lonely Boys have their new EP and a handful of singles on Spotify, where each has garnered several thousand plays.

“Income is generating slowly,” Mr Hohnen said.

“It will still take a long time and, for some, it will still be impossible to make much money.”

Nonetheless, he is optimistic these platforms have the potential to unearth unknown acts.

Mr Smith is also hopeful.

“Regardless of where you are in the NT, we’re a long way from the east coast industry,” he said.

“[Streaming] addresses the issue that these bands are quite large and touring isn’t always viable or practical.

“But they can still get the music out. And that helps feed this broader idea that there is good stuff happening here.”

Topics: indigenous-music, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, music, indigenous-culture, bands-and-artists, darwin-0800

Art exhibition closed for use of Indigenous symbol

Updated September 05, 2017 18:54:52

An art exhibition has been closed in Adelaide for appropriating a figure, which is sacred to Aboriginal people from the Kimberley region.

Adelaide artist Driller Jet Armstrong has had his show closed down early for appropriating a sacred aboriginal symbol.

The non-Indigenous artist said he was being “censored”, but Indigenous leaders have said images in the exhibition were offensive, and not his to use.

“I take these rock art images, I appropriate them and I re-insert them into the European landscape,” Mr Armstrong said.

The contentious exhibition Add-Original Art, which had been open for a month before it was closed, depicts the sacred cloud and rain spirits called Wandjina.

Wandjina are a source of cultural law for the Worrora, Wunambal and Ngarinyin Aboriginal peoples of the Kimberley, according to Worora woman and manager at Mowanjum Arts and Culture Centre Leah Umbagai.

“I feel sad because he is destroying something that doesn’t belong to people from the outside,” Ms Umbagai said.

She said customs regarding people from outside the community using the image were clear.

“Interpreting somebody else’s dream or story, telling the story of their country, telling the story of who they are, we are taught from a very young age that you don’t do that,” Ms Umbagai said.

‘Haven’t artists always borrowed and appropriated from other artists?’

Although Armstrong apologised to those who were offended by his work, he defended his decision to depict the Wandjina in his paintings.

He said artists throughout history have used images from Indigenous art.

“You look at Picasso’s African masks for instance, which are also inspired by Indigenous art,” Armstrong said.

He claimed reconciliation was a driving factor in his work, and expressed a desire to redeem himself for any offence that was caused.

“I want to eyeball the traditional owners and elders. I’d like to be made a member of their family if I can possibly be. That would be a dream for me,” he said.

Leah Umbagai said that if outsiders wanted to use the Wandjina symbol there was a process to be followed.

“People need to understand and go to the rightful people who belong to that and if he needed to do that he should have asked,” she said.

Not the first time

Indigenous Art Code CEO Gabrielle Sullivan said the Wandjina had been appropriated before.

She said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ concerns regarding cultural appropriation were not being heard.

“When the artists who are the owners of that are saying ‘no, we don’t want you to do that — it’s not promoting aboriginal culture, it’s really offensive to us’ then just don’t do it,” she said.

Ms Sullivan also questioned Armstrong’s decision to defend his use of the sacred symbol.

“It’s like they feel like they’ve got the right to defend what they’re doing even though it has caused so much offence,” she said.

Armstrong said he would consult traditional owners before using the image again.

“I won’t be making new work, I shouldn’t think, using that image, until I’ve sat down and discussed this and come to some sort of resolution with the traditional owners,” he said.

Topics: art-history, contemporary-art, painting, indigenous-culture, derby-6728, adelaide-5000

First posted September 05, 2017 18:52:35

Museum on a mission to share Indigenous culture with the world

Posted August 13, 2017 07:48:20

The last place you would expect to find a priceless collection of Indigenous Australian art is a college town in the United States — but head to Charlottesville and that’s exactly what you will find.

The University of Virginia’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection includes hundreds of pieces from generations of Indigenous artists.

The museum’s curator Henry Skerritt said it was his mission to share the stories and culture of Australia’s first people with the world.

“The last time the planet saw this many extraordinary artists emerge in a 100-year period must have been Florence in the 15th century,” he said.

“There really aren’t moments in human history where the concentration of genius emerges like it has in Aboriginal Australian art in the last 100 years.”

More artworks than wall space

Kluge-Ruhe is the only public institution that focuses specifically on Indigenous art outside of Australia.

They have amassed a collection so vast, they don’t have the wall space to display it all.

“What we’re trying to achieve here is not about stealing away the treasures of an ancient civilisation,” Dr Skerrit said.

“It’s about providing a space where Aboriginal and Indigenous civilisations can present themselves to the United States.”

Travelling exhibition will bring a bit of Australia to America

Dr Margo Smith, director of the Kluge-Ruhe collection, has been working with the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in north-east Arnhem Land to organise an exhibition to travel around the United States in 2020.

“We do very special work with Indigenous artists in that we can offer an international experience for them,” she said.

“And we bring many artists and curators to our town to work within the University of Virginia.

“They are in many ways setting the tone, setting the parameters, for the knowledge that we’re sharing about their artwork with the world.”

In 2015, Dr Smith was recognised with an honorary Order of Australia for her efforts to promote Indigenous art and culture in the United States.

“We see that we have a special role to play, because most American’s will never get to Australia,” Dr Smith said.

“Whenever we’re thinking about our collection we’re really trying to connect to the source communities — the artists, the people who are knowledgeable.

“Not only about the past, but about the present production they’re doing.”

Breaking down stereotypes

The museum recently opened its doors to five American undergraduate students who curated one of the current exhibitions, ‘Songs of a Secret Country’.

For these undergraduate students, it was their first exposure to Indigenous Australian art — but already they are working to break down stereotypes.

India Ferguson, a student from Miami, said she felt closer to the artists through the curatorial process.

“They’re really different from how people originally think of what Aboriginal art would look like,” she said.

“Our main ambition in this exhibition is to show that these artists are really bold in their innovations.

“This is a community that I’ve never been exposed to.

“So the more I learn about her [an artist] and where she grew up, I get to learn more about what the community looks like, what kind of plants are growing there and what kind of lives the people live there.”

Topics: indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, indigenous-culture, arts-and-entertainment, art-history, contemporary-art, united-states, australia

Cossack Art Awards breathe life into remote Pilbara town

Updated August 12, 2017 07:40:51

It is a town that usually resembles an abandoned colonial village of stone, but each winter the Pilbara town of Cossack transforms into an artists’ mecca for the Cossack Art Awards.

Thousands of tourists, grey nomads and aspirational local artists pour in to admire the works hung across the historic, hand-made stone walls.

Now in its 25th year, the awards have attracted renowned art figure and director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, alongside previous Cossack winner Joshua Cocking and Indigenous artist Bianca Beetson of the Gubbi Gubbi people of Sunshine Coast.

Artists are keen to have their work recognised since the awards became a significantly acquisitive show on the national arts calendar.

Uniquely, only the first 300 artworks submitted are accepted — resulting in an eclectic blend of professional and amateur art on the walls.

Rugged landscapes from above

Painter Douglas Kirsop, a watercolour and oils man, visits the Pilbara each year and this year won the $8,000 Painting Pilbara Landscape category with his stunning aerial view of the country taken from a flight out from Port Hedland towards Karijini National Park.

Kirsop said he was attempting to capture the textural richness and ruggedness of the topographical view of light on land.

“I managed to restrict it to a more minimal gestural looseness and let it play back to me over time,” he said.

“I’ve always wondered what the Impressionists would have made of this country you know, being confronted with a landscape which is so vast.

“You’re trying to capture the scale of something which, when you’re confronted with it the first time, is very different from a European landscape which has been organized for centuries.

“Here, it hasn’t changed an awful lot.”

‘The sea is really turquoise’

Port Hedland artist Helen Komene’s career started copying comic books as a young girl.

Later in life, the Pilbara inspired her to take up pastels to paint the coast and the red rocky landscapes between Port Hedland and Newman.

“My favourite subject is absolutely the seascapes up here. Pardoo Station, 80 Mile Beach, even as far up as Broome, the sea is really turquoise,” she said.

“I spend a lot of time looking at the ocean, working out the reflections, the way the oceans move.

“Everyone thinks that pastels have to be blended … it’s a really fine balance between making stuff happen and letting stuff happen on the page.

“When you come down, you don’t blend as much and you really start to draw with the pastel and use finer strokes or longer strokes. It’s really more of a drawing technique.”

While seascapes are her favourite subject, she is keen to explore a “working man” theme in her future work, focusing on the people to give the Pilbara a voice through her painting.

Conceptual art on paper

Pilbara artist Carrie McDowell won the $8,000 Works on Paper category with her piece On the Land.

“I was very excited, I did not see it coming. I was inspired to enter as the Cossack Art Awards are a wonderful community event,” she said.

“The maps I used for the work were thrown out by the Mines Department. While mining damages the country in a spiritual way, it has also given a huge wealth.

“I have been very influenced by the Yindjibarndi people I work with and have always been fascinated by their aerial perspective of the land.

“It’s my whitefella interpretation of the land. They don’t have maps but they get around better than we do.

“When I am stitching away I am just in the zone, not working literally.”

The stitching depicts waterholes and the tracks depict the bulls’ impact on the land — a double-edged sword according to Ms McDowell.

“While they damage the land environmentally, they have been significant in the development of the Yindjibarndi people through their relationship to the pastoral industry as cattlemen,” she said.

McDowell has a sense of humour about a couple of minor vehicle accidents with cattle on the roads in what she calls “an intimate bovine relationship”, a term coined by a friend.

“I feel I understand the Yindjibarndi people through my work with them as an art teacher and facilitator. The Fortescue River area around Ethel Creek and Nullagine is their story that I now understand.”

Powerful portraits from the bush

This year the Best Overall category was won by Michelle Hawkins, a charcoal artist who studied at the Angel Academy in Florence, Italy.

Her winning work Lulu is a portrait of Margaret Mary of the Northern Territory.

After spending some time with Ms Mary on the floodplains, teaching her how to drive, Michelle photographed Margaret Mary before turning it into a charcoal drawing.

“I love to hone into the detail and create that perfection using the charcoal stick. I just think it’s magical,” Hawkins said.

“I think it also links in beautifully to the Northern Territory, the quality of beauty in the Northern Territory.”

Storytelling now forms an important thread in Hawkins’ journey to the Northern Territory from Paris and Melbourne since the death of her father.

After working with a fashion photographer and an opera company, Hawkins has chosen to take on a more personal journey to learn about Indigenous culture where storytelling is key to passing on knowledge, culture and language.

Iconic unionist’s story painted

Greg Taylor chose to paint the Aboriginal rights activist and communist Don McLeod (1908-1999) in a whimsical portrait.

“Don McLeod was a different sort of white man — one of the leaders of the Pilbara Strike of 1946 which was a movement to get equal pay for Aboriginal workers on pastoral stations,” Taylor said.

“He was also a member of the Australian Communist Party … I heard a story that he once travelled to Russia and was gifted 100 seeds from the black forest.

“He sewed the seeds into the lining of his jacket and managed to get them past our customs officers. Later, he planted a little Russian forest at Strelley, but the saplings were uprooted in a cyclone.

“It made me laugh to think of Don McLeod as a seamstress and a botanist. Perhaps he thought that his life wasn’t going to be enough and this absurd, fated forest would be his legacy.

“I thought that a childless man might be inclined to plant a forest at a certain time of his life.

“I was mainly thinking about this man who had devoted his life to helping unionise Aboriginal people to achieve a semblance of equality, who had this conviction and who was willing to go further than you or I.

“Who would go to lock-up and court. Who would take off his shoes for someone and leave himself with none.

“It’s much more complicated, of course. His life and legacy are contested like any history. I wrote his name in Cyrillic because I thought he would get a kick out of it.”

Indigenous collective impresses judges

Taylor is also the manager of Spinifex Hill Studios in Port Hedland and works closely with William Gardiner (Nyaparu) who won the $8,000 category Painting by Pilbara Indigenous Artist with his piece Thurla Glass.

Thurla Glass is the nickname given to Gardiner due to his poor eyesight.

According to Taylor, Gardiner — a Nyangumarta and Warman man — also draws on his early experience with the 1946 Pilbara Strike.

He often paints images from his jackaroo days on Pilbara and Kimberley pastoral stations.

“This is my life story that I’m telling you … some of these paintings that I illustrate is just to show that that’s how we used to live, mostly around this Pilbara area to Marble Bar,” Gardiner said.

“I like to draw this sort of things … I’m [teaching] my grandchildren to understand old sort of things like this, and my children they already know.

“After the [1946 Pilbara] Strike we were working there in Strelley and Moolyella, camping in the creek and trying to get a mineral out of the hills.

“We didn’t have a white colour body and we couldn’t go everywhere we wanted. We got chained up, around the neck sometimes. We didn’t get money for work.

“These are the sorts of [reasons] why we started the business of the Strike. We were a hard people out there. We got made hard by our lives.”

Taylor said the artwork of Gardiner offers an “almost miraculous insight into a largely underwritten and overlooked history and are a precious legacy for the nation”.

“Sometimes described by Gardiner as “drifters”, his subjects are typically cattlemen or mineral men who appear to be in between one thing and the next.

“The men, often alone and outside on a big landscape, sometimes come to us with specific names, but they more often preserve their anonymity.

“What is more consistent is their tuckered-out, worried expressions and teetering postures that imbue his work with a vertiginous air.

“While the strikers and their families were empowered through their movement for equality, the reality of the hard yakka that came with their relative freedoms is laid bare in these portraits.”

Fellow Spinifex Hill artist Doreen Chapman won the $10,000 Best Artwork by Pilbara Artist category with her untitled work described by the judges as “Abstract meets realism; deliberate, competent naivety”.

“As a deaf woman, painting is a crucial medium of communication and storytelling,” Taylor said.

Chapman is a Manyjilyjarra artist who has spent the majority of her adult life in Warralong, a community 120 kilometres south-east of Port Hedland.

She began painting with her mother and first exhibited with Martumili artists in Newman in 2010.

“Little girl she start painting, Warralong. She looking … looking … she quick painter. Quickly, looking, looking. No fishing, no hunting, no car. Painting, painting every day. You been bring ’em, she painting, painting, painting!” her mother, Maywokka May Chapman, said of her daughter.

Of the 300 entries in the awards, 121 were by Pilbara artists.

The 2017 show has also seen the inaugural Red Dirt Camera Club exhibit alongside the main event.

Topics: contemporary-art, indigenous-culture, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, arts-and-entertainment, cossack-6720

First posted August 12, 2017 07:31:51

‘It violates culture’: Indigenous artists battle mass-produced knock-offs

Posted August 09, 2017 07:41:44

As he painstakingly creates his intricate Torres Strait Islander designs telling the stories of his ancestors dating back for millennia, artist Laurie Nona stealthily incorporates unique markings that act as a sort of barcode, to deter would-be counterfeiters.

“Nobody’s got a fingerprint like yours. From the grassroots, that’s how we come to protect our own work and find out these people who are fakes,” he said.

“You are self-patenting… so you have evidence to say, ‘this is my work’.”

Mr Nona is part of a movement to battle those who create works masquerading as traditional Aboriginal designs, which are not protected as intellectual property under Australian law.

As the annual Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair kicks off this weekend, showcasing the works of 66 art centres from across Australia, buyers are being urged to purchase ethically in the face of companies creating mash-ups of Indigenous designs and mass-producing them in Asia before selling them through Australian tourist shops.

“If someone copied someone’s original artwork and put it on a shirt it’s an infringement, but if somebody gets a factory in China to make a pastiche of Aboriginal design, but not copying anyone directly, that’s not protected,” Indigenous Art Code CEO Gabrielle Sullivan said.

The sale of fake Indigenous art is an insidious practice that, while not illegal, is immoral, she said.

“It violates culture, it’s taking the economic opportunity away, but it’s also taking control of that resource that’s [the artist’s] to manage and they’ve got no say in how that’s done,” she said.

Indigenous art is defined by the way it represents a cultural connection to country, said Mr Nona, and it’s “ridiculous” that intellectual property has no legal protection.

“Art is our story, it’s our identity, it’s who we are, it’s a living culture,” he said.

He urged the Federal Government to develop more stringent protections for artists.

“It really takes the core out from inside of you, it just really dampens the spirit because you’re telling your true story, and here are people taking patterns and colour just for the sake of creating a fake image so they can make money,” Mr Nona said.

“It really gets under your skin that some fake-arse is taking something they have no connection to, they have no idea what it means.

“They’re stealing, they’re insulting, you name it. They’re doing everything wrong.”

‘It’s not from here, it’s from Bali’

The Rocks, Circular Quay, and Paddy’s Markets, in Sydney, Melbourne’s Swanston Street, the city centres of Cairns, Darwin, and Alice Springs: all are high-end tourist locations that sell imitations of Indigenous art, Ms Sullivan said.

She was dismayed to find the sheer quantity of works appropriating Aboriginal culture available for sale.

When asked, some store owners “were really honest and said, ‘it’s not from here, it’s from Bali in Indonesia’,” she said.

“One shop in Melbourne actually said, ‘there’s two shelves of stuff that’s authentic, the rest of it’s not’.”

Ms Sullivan is lobbying the Federal Government on behalf of artists across the country for greater protection of their culture and works.

“There’s a lot of crap out there,” she said.

Often, consumers may not know how to spot the difference between an authentic work and a knock-off, she said, or they think that the real deal is too expensive.

“That’s a myth,” Ms Sullivan said.

“A fake didgeridoo they’re selling for $400, but you can get a genuine yidaki from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka (Art Centre) in Yirkala for $400, or from Beswick for $200.

“In many instances there is an authentic alternative, and if there’s not it’s probably because the product’s so gammon anyway; there’s no Aboriginal wine bottle holder.”

‘It’s only greed’

The fake trade doesn’t just have an economic effect, but can also disrupt cultural practices, said Abe Muriata, an artist with Girringun Arts in northern Queensland.

“It does a lot of damage… Our young kids, they can see a beautiful artwork in the shops in town, and they can say to themselves, ‘I can do that and make money out of that’,” he said.

“It’s history, it’s a tradition that is ancient, and if we lost that, it’s very sad.”

He said there needed to be a concerted effort to educate consumers to avoid buying inauthentic goods.

“I think about [artists] really being exploited, their culture being exploited… it hurts them,” he said.

“It just robs the people… There’s no culture in that, it’s only greed.”

He warned the Federal Government that protecting Indigenous art was about protecting heritage for all Australians.

“That’s the heritage of Australia, you know, 60,000 years old, don’t let it go down the gurgler,” he said.

Aboriginal Art Fair prepares to show off culture

The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF), emphasises ethics in the trade and is seen by artists as a supportive place to sell their works, usually via their community art centres.

The fair helped promote their art, with a goal of long-term economic sustainability, but executive director Claire Summers said she worried about the vulnerability of artists who were not connected to art centres.

“An artist has the right to be represented to ensure their work is sold in an ethical way, and if an artist doesn’t know what their rights are then they might not know that they’re being ripped off,” she said.

“When you’re buying direct from an artist on the side of the road, you don’t know anything about that piece of work, you don’t know where that artist has come from… and you don’t know if you’re fairly paying that artist.

“That artist might just want $50 so they can go and get something to eat at the end of the day, but in actual fact they should have received $2,000 for that work.”

‘Have respect for what you’re buying’

Centres can foster artists’ careers, catalogue their work, and record and preserve their cultural details such as their country, skin name, and moiety.

“It goes deeper than just a piece of art, this is about cultural preservation and respect for where that artist is from,” Ms Summers said.

DAAF has grown from showcasing 16 art centres in its first year to hosting 66 this year; in 2016, more than 10,000 people visited the fair, and bough a record $2 million worth of art.

One hundred per cent of that goes back to art centres and artists, Ms Summers said.

Artist Regina Wilson, from Durrmu Arts in Peppimenarti, said that art was a key way for culture and traditional stories to be passed along generations.

“I would like to tell the tourists, if they buy a painting have respect for what they’re buying and give the artists really good money for it and look after it in a special way.”

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, visual-art, indigenous-culture, consumer-protection, government-and-politics, darwin-0800, nt, qld

Jack Charles reflects on how Bastardy and its director ‘saved my life’

Posted August 09, 2017 07:00:00

In one of the first scenes of 2008 documentary Bastardy, Jack Charles shoots up heroin, declaring it is what he “lives for”.

Speaking ahead of tonight’s re-screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), the acclaimed actor and member of the Stolen Generations said neither he nor director Amiel Courtin-Wilson knew then how the film would end.

“We never knew whether I’d survive,” Charles said matter-of-factly.

Courtin-Wilson followed Charles for six years “existing on the streets of Collingwood and Fitzroy, a struggling homeless, addicted, well-known cat burglar”.

“I do remember having to con $50 out of him so I could get a whack.”

Bastardy could have been the story of a human tragedy, but when Charles quit heroin it became a story “with a wonderful happy ending” that resulted in an “outpouring of love” for Charles, Courtin-Wilson said.

The man the people of Melbourne now know as Uncle Jack was humbled by the experience.

“People contacted me, on the street, tripping over themselves on the street to engage with me, speaking to me on public transport, writing me little notes saying that they saw Bastardy.”

Charles said the documentary became “a useful tool” for him to reinvigorate his acting career.

“People in the industry … realised that I was performing nowadays, from the time of Bastardy, with no poo in my system.

“It was the documentary that actually saved my life, and I’ve often embarrassed the poor bugger Amiel by saying he was my saviour.”

Director’s unorthodox working methods

When Bastardy premiered at MIFF, Courtin-Wilson was living in a caravan in the corner of a rented Melbourne warehouse.

In 2013 he decided to concentrate on making films overseas and has since found it “easier to just not have a house at all”.

“I’ve pretty much been a homeless nomad for the last nigh on four years,” he said.

Courtin-Wilson followed Bastardy with the short film Cicada, which was selected for the Cannes Film Festival.

That, he said, made it easier to finance his feature film projects despite his unorthodox working methods.

His work since include experimental feature films Hail (2011) and Ruin (2013) and a documentary on Australian pop star Ben Lee.

“[I am] really trying to push myself formally, personally, philosophically into a space that feels really unsafe and unknown and see what happens.”

Courtin-Wilson’s latest film The Silent Eye, also screening this year at MIFF, documents a collaboration between 72-year-old Japanese butoh dancer Min Tanaka and 88-year-old free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor.

Shot entirely in Taylor’s music room, the film alternates between the pair’s improvised performance and slow-motion vignettes featuring extreme close-ups and dancing shadows.

Courtin-Wilson said the film was “a love letter to Cecil”, who the director lived with as his carer for a year-and-a-half.

He is now working on a larger film on Taylor which he described as “a free jazz time travel biopic”.

“That film is probably a good year or two off, so I just wanted to make something about Cecil and one of his collaborators that could be very confined and shot very quickly, but also that I could show to Cecil as a gift of sorts.”

Self-proclaimed ‘Cleverman’

These days Charles describes himself as a “self-proclaimed Cleverman”, and is Facebook friends with one of the police officers who used to pursue him for burglary.

His play, Jack Charles Vs The Crown, documented his struggle to return to prisons as a mentor for Aboriginal inmates, a struggle which is just now bearing fruit through his work with the Archie Roach Foundation.

“It’s only come to light in the last year that I’ve been allowed to sneak in under the radar on the goodwill of the governors of prisons, management, staff and crims,” he said.

“We want to make a play to have a permanent presence of paid elders to go into our institutions … to re-light the burning embers of many a blackfella’s Dreaming — drugged-up, grogged-up, locked-up, mucked-up dreamings.”

So now that he is free from heroin, what does Charles live for?

“I live to be the keeper of culture and law, and to return to prisons.”

ABC Radio Melbourne is a media partner of the Melbourne International Film Festival, which runs until August 20.

Topics: documentary, indigenous-culture, carnivals-and-festivals, stolen-generations, drugs-and-substance-abuse, prisons-and-punishment, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, melbourne-3000