Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Artistic Director Nici Cumpston, Art Gallery of South Australia and city-wide events, Adelaide, 13-22 October, 2017

Warning: members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are respectfully advised that some of the people mentioned in the following text and depicted in the imagery have passed away.

Tarnanthi is a Kaurna language word from the people of the Adelaide plains which means to rise up, come forth or appear, referencing the sun dawning on a new day. As the title of the Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Tarnanthi refers to new ideas, new ways of experiencing and presenting art and new works. Artistic Director Nici Cumpston, a Barkindji woman, has curated a thoughtful and multifaceted festival, with over 500 artists showing work across 26 exhibitions. At the centre of events, Tarnanthi at the Art Gallery of South Australia showcases a broad selection of works, while satellite exhibitions throughout the city of Adelaide focus on individual artists as well as curated selections to explore the complexities of contemporary Indigenous Australian arts practice.

Collaboration is a strong theme across many of the exhibitions and events, placing importance not only on the act of raising the voice of Indigenous artists, but also listening. At the heart of Tarnanthi at the Gallery are two large collaborative paintings from Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands artists. Kulata Tjula: a work for Kunmanara (Gordon) Ingkati (2016) is a senior men’s collaborative painting that honours the strong relationships that exist between senior men within the community. The artists draw attention to the importance of collaborative works like this to enact and record collective knowledge within Anangu language, law and culture. The work is dedicated to Kunmanare (Gordon) Ingkati, who is remembered by the 23 artists as a watchman of his culture. Seven kulata (spears) and miru (spear throwers) accompanying the work in memorial of Ingkati and other senior men who have passed away. Alongside Kulata Tjula, the work by APY Women’s collaborative titled Kungkarangkalpa: Seven Sisters, speaks about the vitality of Tjukurpa (ancestral stories) to the 24 senior and emerging artists who contributed. Together the monumentally scaled works are deeply complex and aesthetically striking, each giving intensity and energy to the other.

City-wide Tarnanthi exhibitions at state institutions, independent galleries and ARIs focused on collective agency and explorations of self-identity. The solidarity of First Nations women was celebrated at ACE open’s Fempre$$ event, an ‘after-party’ accompanying the Next Matriarch exhibition curated by Kimberly Moulton (Yorta-Yorta) and Liz Nowell. Artist Hannah Brontë’s (Wakka Wakka/Yaegel) live party performance highlighted the bold energy inherent when a group of artists are given space to show their power. Further West, Tarnanthi at the Port shifted some of the festival’s energy into the city’s outer suburb of Port Adelaide, an area with continued cultural importance to Aboriginal communities.

Offering a deeply nuanced and conceptually complex addition to the festival, Brad Harkin (of Anglo Australian and Narungga Aboriginal heritage) reflects on the history of the Port area in LOSS. GAIN. REVERB. DELAY. at Vitalstatistix. The large-scale installation and sound work transforms the gallery, formerly the Waterside Workers hall, into a veiled and contemplative space. Borrowing terms from music production, Harkin balances ‘loss’, the cutting of a signal, with ‘gain’, the raising of volume, metaphorically the loss and gain of cultural knowledge. Additionally ‘reverb’ and ‘delay’ store and replay a signal in order to fragment, distort, resonate and reverberate ideas into the future. Harkin explores the transmission of cultural knowledge through drawing on his father’s unionism and consequent sense of social justice, solidarity and work ethic.

The entrance of the space at Vitalstatistix is marked by a short, low ceilinged corridor that leads from the atrium into the hall, here Harkin has hung four flags; the Australian Flag, Australian Maritime Flag, the Eureka Flag and the Aboriginal flag. Within this narrow space, the flags brush against the shoulders of the audience, creating an intimacy not usually associated with these objects. The closeness is disconcerting, with political, often nationalist and racist connotations associated with draping the Australian flag over one's shoulders. Similarly the Eureka flag has become a symbol of Unionism but also carries undertones of violence, divisiveness and nationalism. As symbols, flags aren’t meant to be subjective, but Harkin fragments their meaning, drawing out the contradictions and multiplicities that sit within them. Fragmented conversations paired with a synth-drone soundscape create a reflective and repetitive investigation of personal and family history, exploring how, over time, memories become fragmented and we rely on multiple perspectives to reconstruct meaning.

A far-reaching and inclusive festival, Tarnanthi’s wide scope allows many entry points for its local as well as international audiences. Its downfall is in the overwhelming number of events and exhibitions, which mean audiences can only really skim the surface. But perhaps Tarnanthi’s great strength isn’t in its viewership, but in the relationships, sense of community and solidarity that developed through the festival. Collaboration and collective knowledge are at the core of works such as Kulata Tjula and Kungkarangkalpa, while solidarity, sisterhood and Australia’s best Indigenous DJs are what gave Fempre$$ so much punch. Likewise, Harkin’s work was buoyed by the voices of his family and community. Nici Cumpston has emphasised the richness that comes from welcoming so many of the artists to the opening weekend to share their work and to speak to their practice. Tarnanthi’s other great success is in recording these collaborations, relationships and histories through acquisition of major works and a generous and insightful catalogue that provides further opportunities for artists to raise their voice.

Air Max 270 Men

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Freda Brady, Wawiriya Burton, Angkaliya Eadie Curtis, Tjangili Tjapukula George, Sandra Goodwin, Beryl Jimmy, Nyurpaya Kaika Burton, Iluwanti Ungkutjuru Ken, Sylvia Ken, Tjungkara Ken, Manyitjanu Lennon, Betty Muffler, Matjangka Nyukana Norris, Mary Katatjuku Pan, Betty Kuntiwa Pumani, Antjala Tjayangka Robin, Alison Munti Riley, Tjariya Nungalka Stanley, Carlene Thompson, Maringka Tunkin, Jeannie Wallatina, Judy Wallatina, Puna Yanima, Yaritji Young, Kungkarangkalpa – Seven Sisters, 2016, Fregon, South Australia, synthetic polymer paint on linen; Acquisition through TARNANTHI: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2017, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. © the artists, courtesy of Ernabella Arts, Iwantja Arts, Kaltjiti Arts, Mimili Maku Arts, Tjala Arts, Tjungu Palya.

Saul Steed

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Installation view 2017 TARNANTHI: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art, featuring APY Women’s Collaborative and APY Men’s Collaborative, Art Gallery of South Australia.

Saul Steed

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Alec Baker, Eric Kunmanara Barney, Taylor Wanyima Cooper, Pepai Jangala Carroll, Sammy Dodd, Ronnie Douglas, Stanley Douglas, Arnie Frank, David Frank, Witjiti George, Rupert Jack, Willy Kaika Burton, Brenton Ken, Freddy Ken, Ray Ken, Peter Mungkuri, Vincent Namatjira, David Pearson, Jimmy Pompey, Willy Muntjantji Martin, Mick Wikilyiri, Mumu Mike Williams, Anwar Young, Kulata Tjuta, A work for Kunmanara (Gordon) Ingkatji, 2016, Indulkana and Amata, South Australia, synthetic polymer paint on linen and hand-carved wood; Acquisition through TARNANTHI: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2017, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Courtesy the artists, Ernabella Arts, Iwantja Arts, Kaltjiti Arts, Mimili Maku Arts, Tjala Arts. 

Saul Steed

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Hannah Brontë, welcome to the muvva, 2017, Brisbane, digital Image; Courtesy the artist. 

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Brad Harkin, LOSS. GAIN. REVERB. DELAY., Installation view, Vitalstatistix. 

Adam Murakami

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Brad Harkin, LOSS. GAIN. REVERB. DELAY., Installation view, Vitalstatistix. 

Adam Murakami

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Brad Harkin, LOSS. GAIN. REVERB. DELAY., Installation view, Vitalstatistix. 

Adam Murakami

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Brad Harkin, LOSS. GAIN. REVERB. DELAY., Installation view, Vitalstatistix. 

Adam Murakami

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Brad Harkin, LOSS. GAIN. REVERB. DELAY., Installation view, Vitalstatistix. 

Adam Murakami

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Brad Harkin, LOSS. GAIN. REVERB. DELAY., Installation view, Vitalstatistix. 

Adam Murakami

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Brad Harkin, LOSS. GAIN. REVERB. DELAY., Installation view, Vitalstatistix. 

Adam Murakami

Adelè Sliuzas is an Adelaide based arts writer and curator. She is currently studying postgraduate Art History at Adelaide University and has a BFA from the University of South Australia. Her writing has been published in Artlink, Fine Print Magazine and Runway

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