Aboriginal Art

'Clay Stories' · Contemporary Indigenous Ceramics

Presenting a rich overview of contemporary Indigenous ceramic practice, a captivatingly diverse group exhibition will tour the country for the rest of this year and into next.

Clay Stories: Contemporary Indigenous Ceramics from Remote Australia‘ is currently being showcased at its first venue: Jam Factory: Seppeltsfield in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. Today, we preview the art and learn more about this lesser-known aspect of Indigenous art history.

Jessica Booth and Laetitia Prunetti

Hermannsburg Pottery (left to right) Rona Panangka Rubuntja’s ‘My Pot, My Story, My Family’ as well as ‘Kaporilya Day’ pieces, and Rahel Kngwarria Ungwanaka’s ‘Kurrkurrka (Boobook Owl)’. Photo  – Sabbia Gallery and courtesy of the artists and their respective art centres.

Hermannsburg Potters’ pots drying in the sun. Photo – courtesy of Hermannsburg Potters

Landscape surrounding Ernabella Arts, South Australia. Photo – Ernabella Arts

Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre artisans Emily Murray’s ‘Bagu’, Eileen Tep’s ‘Bunyaydinya Bagu’ and Nephi Denham’s ‘Bagu’. Photo – courtesy of Sabbia Gallery.

Derek Jungarrayi Thompson’s ‘Wanampi (Rainbow Serpent Men)’. Photo – courtesy of Sabbia Gallery.

A piece by Alison Milyika Carroll. Photo – courtesy of Sabbia Gallery.

Alison Milyika Carroll at work at the Ernabella Arts ceramic studio. Photo – courtesy of Ernabella Arts.

Murray River from Warrami Bridge. Photo – V Keenan for Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre.

Hayley Panangka Coulthard’s ‘Looking for Katjirra (Bush Raisins)’ (far left) and ‘Palm Valley Into the Night’ (far right) with Jock Puautjimi of Tiwi Design’s ‘Spear Pole’. Photo – courtesy of Sabbia Gallery.

Jessica Booth
Laetitia Prunetti
10th of November 2017

Clay Stories: Contemporary Indigenous Ceramics from Remote Australia’, is a touring exhibition currently on display at Jam Factory: Seppeltsfield in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, presented by Sabbia Gallery in partnership with the Remote Communities Ceramic Network.

As Bruce McLean, Curator of Indigenous Australian Art at QAGOMA, says in his ‘Clay Stories’ catalogue essay: ‘Indigenous Australian pottery and ceramics have a long and proud tradition within the canon of Indigenous Australian art history. Although many overlook the medium and misunderstand its historical importance, it has played a pivotal role in the establishment of many Indigenous art centres and the Indigenous art industry as a whole’.

The exhibition includes artists working through five remote art centres: Ernabella Arts, Tiwi Design, Girrigun Aboriginal Art Centre, Erub Arts, and Hermannsburg Potters. Each of these centres has a substantial history of ceramic practice, some dating back to the early 1970s. Ernabella (near the borders of South Australia and the Northern Territory) is home to the oldest continuously-running Indigenous art centre in Australia, and has been operating Pukatja Pottery since 1998.

Just ‘up the road’ (approximately 550 kilometres north of Ernabella), the Hermannsburg Potters have been pursuing their own idiosyncratic and highly sought-after ceramic tradition for decades. On the Tiwi Islands, in the community of Girrigun in Far North Queensland, and on Darnley Island in the Torres Strait Islands, entirely distinctive approaches to clay-making have been underway for many years. As Sabbia Gallery Curator, Anna Grigson, told us, ‘We soon realised that there was a very interesting movement happening within many of these art centres, and mostly in quite remote communities, who had difficulties accessing the broader public to show their work’.

The artists in ‘Clay Stories’ come to their ceramic practice from multiple perspectives. Some depict animals, plants and landscapes local to their homes; others evoke important ancestral stories. Anna says, ‘The Bagus from Girrungun Aboriginal Art Centre [for example] have their basis in traditional fire making implements… the Bagu was originally made in wood rather than clay’. Tiwi artist Jock Puatjimi makes marks and incisions on his clay forms, using traditional patterns and drawing on his background of as a carver and printmaker.

‘Clay Stories’ is an important exhibition. It brings together a diverse group of artists to present an overview of contemporary Indigenous ceramic practice today. It also brings attention to a little-known aspect of Indigenous art history. With tour venues across the country through 2017-18, this exhibition is well worth a visit.

‘Clay Stories’ is on until December 10th at Jam Factory, Seppeltsfield. There are currently six tour venues confirmed across NSW, ACT, QLD, SA and NT, with more to be announced.  Find more information here.

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