Flinders Lane Gallery (FLG) has been bringing the artwork of artists from Yuendumu, 300 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, to Melbourne audiences for the past 20 years. Since 2012, the Gallery has also been working with the remote community of Ampilatwatja, located 320 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs, in the heart of Alyawarr land on the Sandover Highway.
Through these two ongoing relationships, FLG presents its current month-long exhibition, ‘The Artists of Ampilatwatja and the Warlukurlangu Artists of Yuendumu‘. ‘Both Community’s art centres are Aboriginal-owned and the sales of artworks assists with social and economic development,’ begins Gallery Director Claire Harris. ‘The artists continue to create such high-quality works, so many individual styles emerge and we love to encourage and support young emerging artists, as well as more senior community members… there is such a diversity in stories and styles.’
Established in 1985, Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation is a not-for-profit organisation owned by its artists, who are renowned for their spectacular use of a bright, unrestricted colour as well as captivating pattern. Many of their acrylic paintings and limited-edition prints depict traditional stories of country, animals, and law, in an enriched contemporary way.
As Warlukurlangu Artists Manager Cecilia Alfonso explains, the Centre was established by the people of Yuendumu, who had seen the impact of the art centre at Papunya, with Geoffrey Bardon and the iconic Papunya Tula Artists. ‘The Warlpiri people on Yuendumu had realised the potential for trading art in exchange for money and cars, and they were keen to have an art centre of their own, and they lobbied locals to help them find someone to help them establish their own art business.’
One of the main long-term goals of the founding artists was to preserve traditional knowledge, and for the Centre to be a means to transmit stories to the younger people in the community. Cecilia, who has now been at Yuendumu for 16 years and today helps represent over 500 artists annually, is extremely proud of how the community has managed to build a sustainable business by engaging with the children, grandchildren and even great grand-children of the organisation’s founders.
Look out for Sarah Napurrurla Leo’s ‘fine concentric circles of her water dreaming’, and the work of Pauline Napangardi Gallagher, who was instrumental in lobbying for the Warlukurlangu Artists to extend its art services to nearby Nyirripi. Cecilia describes Pauline’s work as ‘an intricate and vibrant representation of Mina Mina, which is an extremely sacred salt lake and women’s dreaming site far west of Nyirripi, towards Lake McKay’. And then there is Murdie Nampijinpa Morris, who, though initially very shy about her abilities, is today one of the Centre’s most successful artists and highly respected in the Nyirripi community.
The second centre involved in the show is Artists of Ampilatwatja (pronounced um-bludder-witch), established in 1994. These artists maintain a strong focus on Alyawarr lore through their art, which Centre Manager Caroline Hunter explains, ‘is recognisably distinct from other Aboriginal artistic communities, due to the application of fine dots and the often bright, child-like figurative depiction of the land, as opposed to symbolically depicting Dreamtime stories’.
Detailing the works for this show, Caroline adds that many of the artists – including Julieanne Ngwarraye Morton, Betty Pula Morton, Robina Pitjara Jones and Ada Pula Beasley – paint Arreth, ‘strong bush medicine’, demonstrating a deep connection to country. ‘The paintings pay homage to the significance and use of traditional bush medicine, allowing an insight into their community. Yet underneath the iridescent surfaces, there is an underlying sense that there is more to these landscapes than meets the eye.’
Artists of Ampilatwatja, like Warlukurlangu Artists, aims to establish, manage, conduct and promote its artists’ enterprise, in order to provide employment opportunities and training for members, in addition to improving literacy and access to education.
‘Relationships with reputable galleries such as Flinders Lane are essential for the viability of remote art centres such as ours,’ adds Warlukurlangu Artists manager Cecilia Alfonso, who feels extremely fortunate to have worked with the FLG to promote the diversity of her Centre’s artworks for the past two decades.
‘This is a great exhibition to see if you have jaded views of Indigenous art,’ encourages FLG Director Claire Harris, ‘it showcases the energy and vitality of these contemporary Indigenous communities, and their abundant and fertile creative visions.’
Contemporary Indigenous Exhibition by The Warlukurlangu Artists and Artists of Ampilatwatja
January 16th to February 16th
Flinders Lane Gallery
137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne