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

From an opening weekend pop up asking visitors to exchange cash for ‘blood money’ to a desert pop art film celebrating the women of Indulkana, this year’s Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art promises a vast range of projects that invite deep listening.

This year’s Tarnanthi program encompasses work from over 1,000 artists from around Australia, showcased across the Art Gallery of South Australia and a number of partner galleries including the return of the Tarnanthi Art Fair at Tandanya.

In a bold move for a contemporary Indigenous art festival, the frontier landscapes of 19th century European painters such as Eugene von Guérard and George French Angas will be recontextualised by Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones in a timely interrogation of Australia on the cusp of colonisation. Currently on display in the Art Gallery’s Elder Wing, Bunha-bunhanga: Aboriginal agriculture in the south-east sees Jones place these paintings alongside a series of objects used in First Nations agricultural practices around South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, building on the work of Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage to challenge misconceptions of Indigenous Australia and the dispossession they facilitated.

Badger Bates in his studio, Broken Hill, New South Wales, 2019; photo: Tara Callaghan.
Badger Bates in his studio, Broken Hill, New South Wales, 2019 (Photo: Tara Callaghan)

The current state of the Murray-Darling will be explored in work from Broken Hill-based Barkandji artist and activist uncle Badger Bates, who presents a series of wood carvings and printed works that place the current health of our river systems against generations of craft, culture and care for natural systems. A series of collaborative projects between First Nations artists and JamFactory residents, such as Ngan’gikurrungurr artist Regina Pilawuk Wilson and local ceramicist Ashlee Hopkins, will also reflect on the environment, family and cross-cultural collaboration.

The intersection of western pop culture and contemporary life in Aboriginal communities bears fruit across several works in the 2019 program, most notably in a new film from the women of  Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands arts centre Iwantja Arts. Led by artists Kaylene Whiskey and Vicki Cullinan, this visual work is a celebration of the women of the APY Lands community that showcases an eclectic range of influences reflective of a generation that grew up with western icons like Dolly Parton and Coca-Cola alongside Tjukurpa, the traditional cultural canon of Aṉangu people.

Iwantja Arts Young Women’s Film Project featuring Kaylene Whiskey, Leena Baker, Leonie Cullinan, Betty Muffler, 2019; Image courtesy the artists and Iwantja Arts, This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Government of South Australia, Department of the Premer and Cabinet through Arts South Australia.
Iwantja Arts Young Women’s Film Project featuring Kaylene Whiskey, Leena Baker, Leonie Cullinan, Betty Muffler, 2019 (Image: Courtesy the artists and Iwantja Arts)

That exchange can also be seen in the work of Tarnanthi’s youngest artist, 15-year-old artist Port Hedland-based artist Layne Dhu-Dickie, whose comic book art considers his everyday life as well as larger ethical themes using the visual language of the superhero. The 2019 festival will also feature an opening night performance on October 17 from 22-year-old hip hop sensation Baker Boy, whose work has helped make the Yolngu Matha language a regular feature on national airwaves.

The festival’s opening weekend will also see Marri Ngarr artist Ryan Presley’s Blood Money Currency Exchange Terminal invite visitors to pay the rent by exchanging Australian currency for his own limited edition ‘Blood Money Dollars’, which will in turn raise money for Aboriginal youth programs.

Ryan Presley, Marri Ngarr people, Northern Territory, born 1987, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Blood Money – Infinite Dollar Note – Dundalli, Commemorative, 2018, Brisbane, watercolour on paper; Collection of Bernard Shafer, Image courtesy the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, © Ryan Presley, photo: Carl Warner.
Ryan Presley, Marri Ngarr people, Northern Territory, born 1987, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Blood Money – Infinite Dollar Note – Dundalli, Commemorative, 2018, Brisbane, watercolour on paper; Collection of Bernard Shafer (Photo: Carl Warner, courtesy the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia)

As in previous years, the 2019 program is born of a deep process of consultation and collaboration between the Art Gallery of South Australia team and First Nations artists, and working to facilitate and enable artists to make work on their own terms.

“For me, I think it’s really about the opportunity for us to work with artists, to be able to share their stories,” Tarnanthi artistic director Nici Cumpston explains. “In order for us to be able to do that, the first step is the discussion and conversation that happens around what the work is, and what their vision is.

“I really need to have my heart and my mind open to be able to hear and understand that properly,” explains Cumpston, herself a Barkindji woman and accomplished artist. “And then it’s providing the right platform for the artist to be able to share that vision; it’s being open to help them find the right pathway to make their voices heard, and an opportunity for us to share with audiences in a way that they also hear what [the artists] say.”

“It’s really important for the artist that they’re given a chance to share – but they want to do it in a way that’s meaningful to them and their communities.”

Tarnanthi Festival Contemporary of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Art
18 October 2019 – 27 January 2020

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