Current Issue #488

US pop culture and Anangu traditions inspire strong and proud Tarnanthi film project

Kaylene Whiskey, Leena Baker, Betty Muffler, Leonie Cullinan
Iwantja Arts
Kaylene Whiskey, Leena Baker, Betty Muffler, Leonie Cullinan

Drawing inspiration from music videos and western pop culture alongside more traditional forms of cultural expression, a new film project entitled Kunga Kuṉpu from the women of Indulkana promises an irreverent and proud celebration of contemporary Anangu life and art.

In recent years the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands community of Indulkana has emerged as one of Australia’s most exciting creative heartlands, with its local art centre Iwantja Arts home to award-winning artists Kaylene Whiskey and Vincent Namatjira and their inimitable styles of desert pop art.

The community’s collective output celebrated a highpoint in 2017 with Never Stop Riding, a spaghetti western-inspired film that celebrated the young men of the community through the lens of Hollywood cinema. This year Whiskey and Iwantja Arts director Vicki Cullinan are putting the spotlight on the women of Indulkana in a new work to be debuted at Tarnanthi.

Jackson Lee, courtesy Iwantja Arts
Sonia Bannington, Judith Walkabout, Kaylene Whiskey and Nancy Ward

“We saw lots of youngfellas get involved in the men’s film project Never Stop Riding and saw how proud and happy they were,” Kaylene Whiskey tells The Adelaide Review. “Straight away after we all saw Never Stop Riding, some of us ladies started talking, ‘hey, we’ve got to make a kungka’s (women’s) movie project.”

“We want our film to show that we’re a strong and proud community and that we love to have fun – dancing, making each other laugh,” she says. “We want to send a strong, positive message about life in our remote Aboriginal community, showing how important family and friendship is for us.”

More Tarnanthi 2019

Jonathan Jones and Bruce Pascoe offer a timely illustration of Aboriginal lands on the cusp of colonisation

Just as Whiskey’s paintings transplant American icons like Dolly Parton and Wonder Woman to the red dirt of central Australia, the new film project will use a blend of animation and live action footage to bring to life an omnivorous mix of cultural influences that torpedoes the misconception that remoteness equals isolation.

“The older people, like my grandfather, they grew up in the bush traditional way,” Whiskey says. “When I was growing up there was still traditional language, hunting, bush tucker and things like that, but we also had TV, cassette tapes, discos at the youth centre, flash second-hand clothes and Coca Cola.

“I’ve always loved watching my favourite pop stars on rage and I’m drawn to strong female performers like Tina Turner, Dolly Parton and Cher – they have the best outfits too,” she says. “TV shows (Monkey Magic, Wonder Woman) and movies (Mad Max, Sister Act, The Wizard of Oz) are also a big influence on my work – I love mixing these characters from TV into my paintings of everyday life here in Indulkana, like Wonder Woman might be looking for mingkulpa (native tobacco) or going hunting for malu (kangaroo).”

Iwantja Arts
Kaylene Whiskey, Laurel Macumba, Pamela Stewart, Chantelle Stewart, Nancy Ward, Verna Bannington and Kendra Cullinan

Whiskey and her Iwantja Arts contemporaries are often best known for their painted works, but a project like this presents an opportunity to showcase the breadth of creative expression at play in their community. Local musicians from Indulkana provide the soundtrack as the women strike poses and dance for the camera, the faded green and yellow scrub of the bush serving as a familiar-looking substitute for the parking lots and club scenes of an American rap video.

While the film and Whiskey’s art often embraces the influence of US pop culture, her practice remains firmly connected to a deep tradition of storytelling and exchange. “I might love pop culture, but I’m still very proud of my Anangu culture, our language and our connection to country,” she says. “It’s Anangu way for the elders to teach the younger generations about traditional culture, like Tjukurpa (cultural stories) and inma (ceremonial song/dance).

“With my art I just like to have a bit of fun with combining those two different worlds.”

Kunga Kuṉpu: The Iwantja Arts Young Women’s Film Project
Gallery 24 at the Art Gallery of South Australia
18 October – 27 January

Read more

Tarnanthi 2019 program invites Australia to reflect on the past and pay the rent

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
See Profile

Walter is a writer and editor living on Kaurna Country.

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox