Current Issue #488

Meet Your Maker:
Nici Cumpston

Ben Searcy
Nici Cumpston at the Art Gallery of South Australia

Port Adelaide based photographer Nici Cumpston is as much at home in the Art Gallery of South Australia as she is spending days quietly walking along the Murray and Darling Rivers.

She is well known for her remarkable work as Artistic Director of Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art and says, “I treasure the relationships we are building with the artists who share their lives and stories, how else would we learn about those histories.”

Alongside her curatorial work, Cumpston is foremost an artist and photographer. Graduating in 2004 with Honours in a Bachelor of Visual Arts from University of SA, she has developed a significant body of work influenced by her ancestral lands of the Barkandji (people of the Barka) from NSW.

Cumpston finds her inspiration walking on country and traditional homelands saying, “Photography has led me to discover much about my ancestral connection all along the Murray Darling. The Barkandji would travel right down to where the Barka meets the Murray and follow inland lakes and rivers to the mouth of the river at Kumarangk (Goolwa).”

Cumpston now follows these pathways with her medium format camera to look, listen, smell and feel. She says, “I let the country guide me and it always does. I try to be still and meditative and wait for the right light before I start photographing.” This sense of waiting for the light is very present in her photographs as the viewer is immersed into glistening water or a disappearing horizon.

Nici Cumpston
Nici Cumpston, Oh my Murray Darling

Underneath the serenity is a much more disturbing message about climate change and the impact of continual interventions along the Murray Darling river systems. Her panoramic work ‘Oh my Murray Darling’ currently exhibited at Adelaide Town Hall depicts the dead trees of the original shoreline of the river. Flooded by the construction of weirs and locks in the late 1800s, much of the native flora and fauna was decimated along with evidence of Aboriginal habitation as Cumpston says, “These are the trees my ancestors would have sat under.”

With a busy schedule of exhibitions in Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide, Cumpston is often on the road. Yet the place she most wishes to be is at her studio close to her home. She says, “I am compelled to do my art practice and I love making the work. I just want to be in my beautiful studio, where I have those moments to concentrate on the stories I want to tell.”

Nici Cumpston’s work was displayed as part of Our Future in the Landscape together with Louise Flaherty, Jake Holmes, James Tylor, Lara Tilbrook and the SA Artists for Climate Action collective. In light of Adelaide Town Hall’s temporary closure, the exhibition can be viewed online.

Presented by Guildhouse and City of Adelaide

Curated by ART WORKS Emerging Curator Steph Cibich

Content Sponsored by

Guildhouse is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting South Australia visual artist, craftspeople and designers to develop and maintain sustainable careers.

The Adelaide Review is a media partner of Guildhouse.

Julianne Pierce

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