Ursula Hoff Annual Lecture 2014
The Ursula Hoff Annual Public Lecture on "Aboriginal Art Centres - The Good, The bad and the Ugly" 2014 held at RMIT Storey Hall explored the role of curators and business in Aboriginal art.
VISUAL: The Ursula Hoff Annual Public Lecture. “Aboriginal Art Centres – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” RMIT Storey Hall, 16 September 2014. RMIT University logo.
VISUAL: Suzanne Davies, Director, RMIT Gallery, standing on the stage behind a lectern with RMITUniversity’s logo on it and to the right of the screen. A large banner is beside the lectern and reads RMIT Gallery Contemporary Art and Design, below the heading is a picture of Storey Hall, an old stone building which is the RMITArtGallery. Suzanne is speaking to an audience that is off?screen. A panel of male and female speakers are sitting at tables on the stage to the left of the screen facing the audience (from left to right – Adam Boyd, Sr Alice Dempsey, Jimmy Tchooga, Dr Jacqueline Healy and Prof Ian McLean). An overhead screen is on the wall behind the stage.
Suzanne Davies: We're here this evening ... we have the great privilege, in fact of this event being supported by The Ursula Hoff Foundation. Graham, would you like to come up on stage, please?
The Ursula Hoff Foundation has, in fact, enabled us to bring two of our speakers to Melbourne for the occasion. And it's my great pleasure to introduce Dr Graham Ryles OAM who is the Chairman of The Ursula Hoff Foundation and she will ... he, rather, will explain a little about it. Thank you very much.
VISUAL: Dr Graham Ryles walks on stage and stands beside Suzanne Davies who then after the introduction walks away from the lectern and off?screen. Dr Graham Ryles is standing at the lectern speaking to the audience who is off?screen. Camera is focused in only on Graham Ryles, part of the lectern and part of the RMIT Gallery banner.
Graham Ryles: Thank you, Suzanne. I'm not going to talk very long; which is good. It's a pleasure for the Ursula Hoff Institution Foundation to be here. We sponsor ... we have two public lectures a year and last year we started a contemporary lecture and this year is our second contemporary lecture and we've been very happy with working with the RMIT and Suzanne, in particular.
A brief background to the Ursula Hoff Institute. Ursula Hoff, the Institute is obviously named after Ursula Hoff and she was 2000 ... I’ll start again, 1909 to 2005. She was born in London and she was educated in Germany. She left Hamburg in 1933 when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and introduced anti?Jewish measures. She was brought to Australia by University ... by Women's College which is now a UniversityCollege, University of Melbourne, who wanted to assist a victim of fascism and she came out. They advertised for a Jewish or partly Jewish refugee with a university degree who would be the College Secretary. Her career encompassed art history, curatorship, museum management at the University of Melbourne and the National Gallery of Victoria. She was lecturer in the Department of Fine Arts within the Faculty of the Arts, University of Melbourne as well as she worked in the National Gallery of Victoria and rose to being Assistant Director from 1968 to 1973. She was the last London Advisor to the Felton Bequest in London from 1975 to '83. She was foundation member of the Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1970 and member of the Council of the National Library of Australia.
Her scholarly publications include studies of Arthur Boyd, Charles Conder, John Brack, William Blake and her major work, the standard catalogue of Pre?1800 European Paintings to the NGV.
Dr Hoff, as the first academic-trained art historian appointed to an Australian museum had a long distinguished and productive life as a scholar and intellectual. She was known for her independence of mind and astute judgement and set the highest standards in all areas of museum work. She established benchmarks in Australian museums to which curators and administrators continue to aspire.
Established in 2003, the Ursula Hoff Institute is a charitable institution dedicated to the support of the visual arts. Inspired by the high intellectual standards of Dr Hoff's research and scholarship, the Institute promotes and facilitates individuals and groups in visual arts through annual and occasional lectures, scholarships, awards and grants. Tonight's lecture is made possible by the Ursula Hoff Institute with the support of the S.R. Stoneman Foundation. Thank you.
VISUAL: Graham Ryles walks off stage and at the same time Suzanne Davies walks back to the lectern, stands and speaks to the audience who is off?screen. She is holding two catalogues which she holds up to the audience when she refers to them during introductory speech.
Suzanne Davies: Graham, thank you very much and thank you most particularly for your generous (chuckling) support. We are very grateful, thank you.
Now, I basically have one further thing to do, Jackie is going to take over as moderator and narrator, in effect, I think, but to just tell you two things: catalogues, superb catalogues, material that we haven't ... that hasn't been in the public domain before but also the opportunity to see the material in the Exhibition and the material that's in the catalogue is really outstanding and we do hope that you'll take advantage of that and that you will actually look at these catalogues and all that takes place tonight will, in fact, be podcast so we will have, if Evelyn can nod at me, yes, it will be on YouTube and podcast, as well. So all that takes place this evening will have a life well beyond the walls of RMIT's Storey Hall. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr Jacqueline Healy.
VISUAL: Suzanne Davies walks off the stage and at the same time Jacqueline Healy walks to stand behind the lectern and speak to the audience who is off?screen.
Jacqueline Healy: First of all, I'd like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land, the Wurundjeri People and I'd also like to, again, welcome the people from Balgo and the people from Warmun who are here tonight; it's wonderful to have everyone here.
Tonight, the session, we're going to look at art centres and, I suppose, some of you are thinking about the title: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Well, of course, it's a famous spaghetti western with Clint Eastwood and it was a point of inspiration for this event tonight because, in fact, what that spaghetti western was about was a treasure hunt. It's about a series of people who at some points were colleagues; at other points were in direct conflict who, in fact, set about a series of adventures to discover the treasure, the buried coins, and it is in their conflicting interests and then their joint interests and then their combined interests that the adventure goes on. And I think there's a parallel here, with the journey of art centres and the myriad interests that make up the Aboriginal Art market. And so I thought I'd start by talking about the good and I'll have a personal bias in this. So I'm going to start talking about art centres, just to give a bit of an overview before I hand it over to the speakers.
So the art centre origin lies in the work of the church missions and in the marketing of Aboriginal artefacts and art from those areas. And in some of the many well?researched reports done on this area, Ernabella has been placed as, in fact, the first art centre emerging in the 1940s. Art centres have, for a very long time, been the core of the Aboriginal Art movement; probably one would place it since the 1970s, with the establishment of centres such as Papunya Tula with the support from the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council. Art centres have become associated with self-determination and the cultural assertion of Indigenous culture. There have been waves of creations of art centres in the early 1970s, then in the 1980s, leading up to the Bicentennial and then, another surge before the Olympics in Sydney. Warlayirti Artists was part of the lead up to the Bicentennial activity and was established in 1987 and Warmun followed later, in 1998, part of the lead up to the Olympics in 2000. My PhD, actually, was on both Warmun and Balgo in terms of the details of the emergence of these art centres and I'll go into a bit more detail about that in a moment.
But I also then wanted to quickly move on to the bad and I just wanted to quote Alison Anderson who, when she was Minister in the Northern Territory Government in 2011 described the white mafia, meaning art centre coordinators, this is a direct quote from her: “... want us to stay in misery and poverty so that we, Aboriginal Artists, continue to rely on them. They are all amateurs, unemployable in Sydney or Melbourne.” Nicolas Rothwell's perspective on art centres has, over the years, moved from support to, in fact, critical appraisal and he has, actually, blamed art centres for what he considers to be a decline in the quality of Aboriginal Art and that the community model of running the art centre has given priority to the community as a whole rather than to the leading artists and the leading artists have suffered accordingly.
A few years ago, Jirrawun was put forward as the new model for art centres because this was a totally private sector model: key artists, major exhibitions, self-sufficient, no government funding but Jirrawun didn't last; it folded in 2010. So, in fact, something that had worked very well for a very specific period of time disappeared as quickly.
The other point that has been continually made in relation to the Aboriginal Art market and the relation to art centres that they've been on a trajectory of decline because of the generational change within the art centres and it's interesting to note that these comments were being made as much in the 1970s, as in the 1980s, as in the 1990s, as they are now and in that sense what they ignore is, in fact, all art movements go through generational change because, in fact, that is the essence of any culture and any movement. But we'll talk about that later.
And finally, I just wanted to mention the ugly before I go on to some of these other points in more detail which, of course, must be the carpet baggers and in the time I've spent in working with Aboriginal art centres which began over 15 years ago in visits to Warmun and Balgo and many other centres in the Northern Territory and WA is that the presence of the art ... the carpet baggers or the unscrupulous dealers have been there since the beginning. I was actually in Warmun in the beginning of one wet season when I was filling in there when, in fact, carpet baggers came in to that community and at firsthand I witnessed that initial approach to the art centre, the finding out of the key artists and the mapping out of a strategy for how to go into that community quickly, get works and leave. I also followed those works to a gallery in Melbourne and mapped that out. But from the other side of things, why, in fact, there was an opportunity for that to happen was, in fact, the time of year, the economic situation of people in that community and it was just an aberration, not a long term impact but those things are still happening and happen the whole time. In Balgo, recently, a senior artist was, in fact, taken to Alice Springs against her will and had to be rescued by her family and that was just 18 months ago and things like that are happening the whole time still.
Warlayirti Artists, which is an art centre that I've mapped the history of, in fact, began in 1987 and the current show on shows the works from the 1986 Exhibition that inspired the establishment of the Art Centre. It also shows works from the ... that were done at the Adult Education Centre that Sister Alice will talk about which was the lead up to that Exhibition. But that Warlayirti Art Centre was established in 1987 and it was established with Australia Council funding. It took until 2000 for that Art Centre to be self?sufficient to, in fact, be able to generate its own wealth and it continued to do that until the recent downturn in the Aboriginal art market and then Warlayirti Artists, through the guidance of the Art Centre Committee, and Jimmy Tchooga will talk about this later, then took on the Motika Project which was, in fact, a film?based project that they did through grant money which engaged young people in the community in making film. And they also had a touring show that went to Tokyo under that heading: the Motika Project, which showed the innovation that a very well?established art centre needed to undertake in the context of the changed circumstances of the art market.
Now, Warlayirti is one of a handful of art centres that have achieved economic self?sufficiency. So, in fact, the backbone of the Aboriginal art market, art centres, are in fact, subsidised businesses. And I know it's a trend to, in fact, look at subsidy and think of it negatively but I think it might be good at this point to think of a very important example of subsidy which is Darwin, that capital city at the north of Australia who, in fact, is subsidised 90% of its activities. It generates 10% in revenue to subsidise the running of that area and what comes out of Darwin, in terms of benefiting Australia and benefiting other industries is undisputable. I think in that context one must look at the role of art centres in that broad brief of their worth and contribution to community as well as their economic contribution and their cultural contribution.
The ethical issues of the Aboriginal Art market, I'm not going into detail in this overview. We've recently had the Indigenous Art Code in relation to private art galleries. We've also had royalties, re?sale royalties introduced. We've had a lot of debate about the value of art centres. What we have is an Aboriginal art market that is a partnership between artist?run art centres, public and private art galleries, auction houses and the art?buying public; and all those players have an important role to contribute. We have eternally since the ... I think the early 1940s sought models to bring economic prosperity to Aboriginal communities through activities that have a cultural base. Predominantly, the need for subsidy has, in fact, prevailed and I think it's interesting to note that the latest bevy of art centres, the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance in Queensland which was formed a couple of years ago ... well, actually, it was just 2013, which includes 13 art centres outside Cairns is supported by the Queensland Government and is based on how art centres operate in South Australia and Western Australia. And the report that led to the establishment of this alliance was written by two ex?arts advisors who are now consultants, so the model of subsidised business continues. This market, the Aboriginal art market, is a fragile thing but what is not fragile is the power of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and art.
I now have great pleasure in introducing the speakers. We're looking at two sides of things. We're beginning with the prominent art historian, Ian McLean who, as we all know, is a leading art historian and art critic. He's an expert in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. He has not been involved in art centres in any way. He's also confided in me that he knows absolutely nothing about them; I don't think that's true. But why we've asked Ian to speak tonight; because he's an outsider, he's viewing art centres from the outside having not been directly involved within them. And then we have the views of key players from the Warmun Art Centre and Warlayirti Artists and they will give the insider perspective. The speakers we have here tonight, I'll just run through them. We have Jimmy Tchooga ...
VISUAL: Camera pans across stage to focus on the guest speakers sitting at the tables on the stage – from left to right: Adam Boyd, Sr Alice Dempsey, Jimmy Tchooga, Ian McLean.
Jacqueline Healy: ... who's Chair of Warlayirti Artists. We have Sister Alice Dempsey who established the Wirramanu Adult Education Centre at Balgo and was instrumental in the beginning of the art movement there. And we also have Alan Bond (sic) (Adam Boyd) who's the current arts advisor at the ... it’s Adam, sorry, at the Warmun Art Centre, so I've made him a notorious person, when he's not. Sorry, Adam. I will now hand it over to Ian McLean who will give his view on art centres.
VISUAL: Ian McLean stands and walks over to the lectern. Jacqueline Healy carries her speech papers back to her place at the table on stage but off?screen. Ian stands behind the lectern and speaks to the audience who is off?screen. He picks up a glass of water and places it behind the RMIT Gallery banner beside him, he is laughing after his joke about can't say no to Jackie.
Ian McLean: Thanks, Jackie. I've got a bit of a cold so I hope I get through this without getting into a coughing fit. I shouldn't really be here but you can't say no to Jackie (all chuckling); can you, Jackie?
VISUAL: Ian McLean after placing his glass of water behind the banner stands back at the lectern and speaks to the audience.
Ian McLean: Jackie wanted me to begin this session with a talk that would be a little bit controversial, I suppose, to get people thinking so let's hope it does that. Oh, I've got to ...
VISUAL: Ian McLean leans behind the banner beside the lectern to power up the slides to be presented behind him on the overhead screen during his talk. He then stands back at the lectern and speaks to the audience.
Ian McLean: I thought I'd better have some pictures in case you get bored. I'm not really talking about the Balgo Art Centre but I thought I should begin with that. Of course, if you think art centres are over?subsidised by the government, you should think about how much they subsidise art schools and contemporary art spaces. I'm sure they get much greater subsidies than art centres. And this is also, by the way, the sort of formal talk that the Ursula Hoff Memorial Lecture expects, I suppose. So I've got a talk here which I'm going to read in a formal way.
There's nothing in the western art world that compares to the multiple functional space of the remote Aboriginal art centre. As vital to remote Aboriginal art as art schools and contemporary art spaces are to western art, the art centre is the heart of a parallel art world that occasionally crosses with the mainstream urban art world that we're familiar with or most of us are; as in this Exhibition or these two Exhibitions on here. Without art centres and art schools, art would still have a future but it would be a very different future driven entirely by the market.
VISUAL: Ian McLean leans, again, behind the banner. Then back to the lectern and continues speaking to the audience. As he says there’s some example here, he points to the overhead screen behind him but which is still off?screen.
Ian McLean: Now, there are successful and acclaimed artists who don't work in an art centre or didn't go to an art school and there's some examples here.
Emily Kngwarreye didn't have an art centre. Richard Bell, at the top there, didn't go to an art school. Michael Nelson Jagamara occasionally works at an art centre but is much better promoted by his dealer through whom he collaborates with Imants Tillers, who is not an Aboriginal artist, all the other ones are. And Imants Tillers didn't go to an art school, either.
VISUAL: Camera has now panned back to show the overhead screen at the back of the stage. Ian McLean is standing at the lectern on the bottom right of the screen speaking to the audience. The overhead screen has three photographs of artwork on it. Top left is labelled Kngwarreye, Big Yam Dreaming (Anwerlarr Anganenty), 1995, NGV. The photograph top right is labelled Richard Bell, Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell’s theorem) 2003. The photograph on the bottom is labelled Michael Nelson Jagamara & Imants Tillers, Hymn to the Night, 2012.
Ian McLean: However, and I think this is an important point, the success of these artists hinges on an existing infrastructure in which art centres, contemporary art spaces and art schools are essential services. So even if you do become a very successful artist without having to use art centres or go to art schools, you still depend on this larger art world or these two other art worlds.
Now, while in many respects Aboriginal art centres, art schools and contemporary art spaces are similar in that they nurture the making of art and they're also similar that they're manifestations of modernity. They're things that came about in the modern art world. Their difference, or what I've called their parallel worlds, is more important. And what is interesting, I think, about this painting by Jagamara and Tillers, this collaboration they did, is that this sense of a fundamental difference between remote Aboriginal art and Western art in this large canvas happily co-exist without the need of a resolution of any sort. It's what you might call an abiding indifference without any anxiety about identify. It's not as if these two artists felt they had to resolve the painting, they just allowed their two voices to exist together on the same canvas. And that's the sort of metaphor for my talk.
The difference of remote Aboriginal art, that is its difference from Western Art, was very much in evidence at Desert Mob which I attended a few weeks ago.
VISUAL: Camera is still panned back to show the whole overhead screen with Ian McLean standing at the bottom right of the screen. Ian reaches behind the banner next to the lectern and changes the image on the overhead screen to show a photograph of a crowded gallery with artworks on the surrounding walls and figures on display in the centre of the photograph on pedestals. The photograph is labelled Desert Mob, 2014.
Ian McLean: Desert Mob is the annual exhibition in Alice Springs in which the coordinators of the 40?odd art centres in the Central and Western Deserts select their best work of the last year for a salon?type hang after which a market is held in a busy annual sale. This year Desert Mob was celebrating Desart's 21st birthday; its coming of age.
VISUAL: Camera is still panned back to show the whole overhead screen with Ian McLean standing at the bottom right of the screen. Ian reaches behind the banner next to the lectern and changes the image on the overhead screen to show a screenshot taken from Desart’s website of a photograph of a crowded gallery with artworks on the surrounding walls. The titled at the bottom of the photo reads: Experience Desert Mob, 3-4 September,2014, Alice Springs. At the top right of the photo reads: www.desart.com.au. And also Desart’s logo is right at the bottom of the overhead screen.
Ian McLean: Images taken from Desart's website. Desart is the Alice Springs?based umbrella organisation of these Desert Art Centres and Desert Mob is its open day. That's the best put ... the best foot is always put forward. It's time for a celebration not critique. It's aptly named one-day Symposium and a symposium is a traditional Greek ... it's a Greek word and the traditional Greek symposium was not a critical forum but a drinking party to celebrate men coming of age and victories in sports and art contests. And this is a bit like what the symposium at Desert Mob is like. It's an all?Aboriginal affair except for the occasional white art coordinator who sits ... who might be sitting on the side prompting the artists. The MC, this year, was Brenda Croft and Hetti Perkins gave the key note, respectively, Gurindji and Arrernte children of the Stolen Generation. In her key note, Perkins gave a stirring sermon on the virtues of art centres and Desart and the vanities of the white mainstream art world that have exploited art centres for a quick profit or for its own discourse; things that people like myself do, these sort of experts. Identity, after all, is most clearly defined not through an abiding indifference but a discourse of difference, a sort of naming of the other and this is what Hetti was doing. Now, Perkins hesitated to damn the art world in toto but the message was clear: without the art centres the Aboriginal art movement would never have happened. Art centres don't need the art world and the only good dealer is one who does the art centre's bidding.
VISUAL: As Ian McLean speaks the camera pans in to focus close up on Ian McLean standing and speaking at the lectern.
Ian McLean: In the other key note address, the Wiradjuri conceptual artist, Jonathan Jones gave a similar message to artists wanting to collaborate with Indigenous artists, artists like Imants Tillers, I suppose; an increasing common phenomenon these days. In short, his message was: know your place and stay there. He made a scathing remark about an unnamed white woman artist who had collaborated with an unnamed Aboriginal artist in an unnamed art centre. Together, their talk gave the sense of a strong Aboriginal nation with its own united identity and cultural expressions that the Aboriginal?owned art centres guarantee needing to defend itself against the outside Western Art world, a Western enemy, if you like. And the largely white audience clapped.
Now, given the history of colonialism and also the ace that art centres hold up their sleeve, namely the art, this militant stance of Perkins and Jones is understandable and some would say necessary and even admirable. They had another point of difference to make as well. Unlike dealers in the Western art world, they said, art centres are focused on the culture, not the art. And this was emphasised many times; it's, in fact ... oh, I'll come to that in a minute. In other words, they said they are about community rather than the art world. They’re ... it's a community art enterprise not a fine art enterprise. So, the global financial crash or the latest art world ism is not an art centre concern. What matters is the strength of the culture. Like an anchor driven deep into country, art centres hold the community fast stopping it being swept away by the wild currents of modernity that ravish these places.
One frequently hears about the health and social benefits of art centres and the obverse, as we just heard tonight, that artists get pulled towards carpet baggers and dealers because families get greedy and forget the community. So if art centres are about culture, what is culture?
VISUAL: Camera is still close up on Ian McLean as he reaches behind the banner next to the lectern and changes the image on the overhead screen. Camera pans quickly out to show the overhead screen only. The photograph on the screen is of a Native American wearing full feather headdress with painted face on the left and standing beside a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. They are looking at each other each with thought bubbles above their heads. The thought bubble from the Native American Indian has a circle in it and the thought bubble from the Canadian Mountie has a square in it. The title at the bottom of the artwork reads: David Garneau, not to Confuse Politeness With Agreement, 2013. The heading at the top of the overhead screen reads: What is Culture?
Ian McLean: I thought I'd put this painting up by a Canadian Indigenous artist to, not so much answer the question, but ask the question: what is culture? These two art worlds facing each other. Culture, I want to argue, is made from processes of transculturalisation; a mixing of differences, as here, even when one thinks in squares and the other thinks in circles. So it's made from a mixing of differences rather than and not from some mysterious essence that has to be kept pure.
VISUAL: Camera slowly pans back to focus in on a close-up of Ian McLean speaking at the lectern.
Ian McLean: This culture is strengthened not by building defensive walls around it but by engaging with other cultures. The art centre is just such ... the Aboriginal art centre is just such a transcultural space, though you wouldn't know it at Desert Mob or indeed, most writing on Aboriginal art.
Art centres are sites of collaboration and exchange between artists but what makes or breaks an art centre is the collaboration ... collaborative relationship developed between the artist and the art coordinator. As the broker between the artist and the wider world, the art coordinator is the linchpin of the operation. This is why art centres are so important; they are like a portal between the community and the world looking ... having to look inside and outside simultaneously. And some art centres are good at looking inside and some are good at looking outside; but the best are the ones that do it simultaneously, that can handle the dealers and can also get the artists excited and painting at the same time. It's a very difficult thing to do.
Now, another important portal or doorway between the Aboriginal art world and the wider art world is something more conceptual and it's to do with the way the art is badged or sold in ... mainly in institutional, that is Western art world discourses. And this is paramount, I think, to the future of both art centres and Aboriginal art. For example, when Aboriginal art is badged as primitive as it still is in some places as in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, it effectively burns all bridges to the modern world.
VISUAL: Camera begins to pan out wide to focus on the overhead screen only. The screen shows an image of a photograph of a section of about 10 bark paintings. The label on the bottom of the photograph reads: Bark painting display, Quai Branly. The heading on the top of the screen reads: primitivism.
Ian McLean: The portal is shut down. This is why its re?badging from primitive art to fine art in the 1950s was such a good thing, a liberating thing. However, the re?badging wasn't that successful because in most people's mind it simply became primitive fine art. Art galleries which collect fine art began establishing primitive art departments which in the '80s morphed into Aboriginal art departments. And the story told in these Aboriginal fine art departments or primitive fine art departments remained outside the story told in the modern fine art departments.
VISUAL: Camera begins to pan out further to now include the overhead screen and Ian McLean standing at the lectern at the bottom right of the screen.
Ian McLean: So we still had these two worlds that weren't really talking to each other.
VISUAL: Ian McLeans leans back behind the banner quickly then stands back behind the lectern. The image on the overhead screen changes to two photographs with a heading at the top of the screen which reads Contemporary art. The photograph on the top left is of an art gallery space with a large ground painting in the foreground and three artworks displayed around the walls in the background. A group of people are looking at the art and this is labelled: RoyalAcademy show 2013. The painting on the bottom right shows an image of a male painting the bonnet of a car in the dot painting style and is labelled: Michael Nelson Jagamara painting BMW, 1989.
Ian McLean: More successful was the 1980s re?badging of Aboriginal art as contemporary art. This was also an institutional move, that is it mainly happened in Western art world discourse but art centres and artists also participated in this re?badging. Thus, when the Warlpiri Artists made a ground painting for the Paris Festival in 1983, they said we want to show the people of Paris that our culture is as modern as today. And Jagamara said much the same thing when he painted a BMW in Warlpiri designs, that you can have a Warlpiri BMW. However, there was always, at this time, a competing paradigm at work.
VISUAL: Ian McLean leans behind the banner to change the slide and then back to the lectern to continue speaking. The camera begins to pan out wide to show the entire overhead screen with Ian McLean still speaking at the lectern at the bottom right of the screen. The image on the overhead slide has changed to two photographs with the heading at the top of the screen which reads: Land rights. The photo at top left is a close up of a section of paintings that were displayed. The photo at the bottom right is labelled: The Ngurrara Canvas at the Ngurrara native title determination proceedings at Pirnini, November 2007.
Ian McLean: This was the badge of authenticity in Aboriginality essential, if one was to win a land rights claim through making a painting. And you can see how differently a painting is hung in a land rights claim as in a contemporary art gallery; you wouldn't be allowed to do that in a contemporary art gallery so it's a totally different way of badging the art. So, this badge of authenticity in Aboriginality is essential if your aim is to win a land rights claim through making a painting but it's not a very good badge if you want to sell it as contemporary art. It's also essential in activist identity politics. But notions of authenticity is a suspect concept in the discourse of contemporary art. So these two badges which are contemporary or simultaneous, they sort of conflict with each other. So how do art centres badge Aboriginal art now? If they were badging it as modern or contemporary art in the '80s, how do they badge it now?
VISUAL: Camera is still on the wideshot to include all of the overhead screen and Ian McLean standing at the lectern in the bottom right corner of screen. Ian leans quickly behind the banner to change the slide and then stands back behind the lectern. The image on the overhead screen changes to read: ‘Aboriginal traditional law or culture is the foundation for all the art’ with an image of Desart’s logo.
Ian McLean: This is the current badge of Desart taken from its website. And I'm sure we all would have heard this sort of slogan, it's said a lot: Aboriginal traditional law or culture is the foundation for all the art. So what is that saying? And what, you might ask, happened to the modern or the contemporary, where did that go?
VISUAL: Camera begins to pan back in for a close up on Ian McLean standing at the lectern and speaking to the audience.
Ian McLean: Now, for a brief moment in the late '80s and early '90s with, for example, the exhibition Balance which was in Queensland and the likes of artists like Gordon Bennett and Tracey Moffatt both of whom repudiated the label of authenticity and Aboriginal art for a more sort of cosmopolitan position. For a brief time it looked like Aboriginal art was going to another way completely into that direction of the contemporary.
VISUAL: Ian McLean leans behind the banner to change the slide and returns to stand behind the lectern and looks up at the screen then back at the audience. The camera then begins to pan out for a wide screen view of the whole overhead screen and Ian McLean standing at the lectern at the bottom right of the screen. The image on the overhead screen is of a series of eight consecutive photographs as Gordon Bennett peels dry polyvinyl acetate glue from his face. The title reads: Gordon Bennett, Nuance, 1992.
Ian McLean: A work by Gordon Bennett. Bennett, probably the most articulate art world Aboriginal artist of his generation, rejected what he called ... and this is quoting from Gordon Bennett in the mid?'90s, what he called the grounds of any ethnic essentialism, that is Aboriginality, what he called ... and when he called it, he called it the trap ... what he called the trap of Aboriginality. And he said the polarisation of identity into black and white opposites. Now, these ideas have not disappeared even if you won't find them ... but you won't find them on the Desart website. So my point is that there is actually no one Aboriginal position; there are several badges and operations, several Aboriginal positions. This was even apparent at Desert Mob, despite everyone getting a prize, when Jones made the scathing remark about the unnamed art centre which I'm now going to name.
VISUAL: Ian McLean leans behind the banner to change the slide then stands back at the lectern. The image on the overhead screen is of two photographs of artworks. The top left is labelled: Eubena Nampitjin, Ildiko Kovacs, Aida Tomescu. Raft gallery, Paint exhibition, 2008. The bottom right artwork is labelled: Molly Nampitjin Miller, Ildiko Kovacs Yaritji Connelly, Untitled 2010.
Ian McLean: He was referring to the Ninuku Centre at Kalka which had invited the Sydney artist, Ildiko Kovacs to work with Pitjantjatjara artists: Molly Namptijin Miller, Yaritji Connelly and Harry Tjutjuna. And I just put up that image at the top because Ildiko Kovacs had exhibited with Eubena from the Balgo Artists several years earlier which ... and she worked ... that's why she was invited out there, I suppose. Now, Jonathan Jones, when he objected to this collaboration ... this is the collaboration that they did down there, when he objected to the collaborations that she did, that was just one of them. He wasn't just speaking for himself, he was speaking for Pitjantjatjara artists who lived further to the east in the Tjala Art Centre at Amata who had objected to these collaborations, to this ... to Ildiko working with these artists. Now, such dissension is normal between desert arts or in the des ... or between different Aboriginal communities. Desart might like to present a common front but the desert comprises semi?autonomous communities that not only interpret things differently but also live with this difference. Doctrinal tensions between eastern and western Pitjantjatjara recently boiled over in another project - the Ngintaka Exhibition in Adelaide which you probably heard about.
So Aboriginal culture is a highly politicised space, mainly because there are so many trans?cultural tensions; trans?cultural both internal to Aboriginal communities but also trans?cultural between Aboriginal and Western communities and unresolved differences at work. In 1989, for example, Boomalli, the Aboriginal Arts Cooperative established in Sydney in 1987 ...
VISUAL: Camera pans in for a close up on Ian McLean standing at the lectern and speaking to the audience.
Ian McLean: ... withdrew support from that exhibition I mentioned earlier, Balance. An exhibition being organised by another Indigenous group called the Campfire Collective in Brisbanewhich included the likes of Richard Bell who I showed you earlier. And they withdrew support because a third of the artists in Balance were white artists and they didn't want to support white artists. Boomalli sees itself as an urban version of a remote art centre rather than a contemporary art space in which the debates of contemporary art are not really a priority rather that what is a priority is serving mainly New South Wales Indigenous communities; in other words, culture and community rather than capital A, Art.
By contrast, Richard Bell and his ProppaNOW is now the collective that they've formed since the Campfire Group and his comrade, Vernon Ah Kee oppose the traditionalism of the Desart mantra calling on artists in the desert to address contemporary issues like the intervention. They exhibit with the post?conceptual art dealer, Josh Milani.
Now, one way of conceptualising this Aboriginal politics is by comparing it to another oppressed group, the Jewish People. As if the cause of their oppression was their own diasporic existence in Europe one Jewish faction, Zionists, sought to secure a homeland that they had left in pre?Christian times. Paradoxically, this idea of a homeland had its origin in the very ideology that in the 20th Century instigated the holocaust, namely Nationalism. Now, the Zionists were not alone; contemporary parallel discourses included Black Nationalism which was influenced ... which was influential on early 20th Century Aboriginal activism; Pan-Africanism and the Negritude movement. All these movements arose in the late 19th, early 20th Century. However, there were also prominent opponents of such nationalisms. For example, the Jewish intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt, Theodore Adorno and Walter Benjamin, all sort of art world-types, opposed Zionism with what they called a diasporic cosmopolitanism. This notion of a diasporic cosmopolitanism, that's the sort of badging that contemporary art uses now, the slogans of contemporary art. Similarly, Black critics like Edouard Glissant, Stuart Hall and Okwui Enwezor have opposed Black Nationalism with what they call a third world diasporic cosmopolitanism. And these same tensions operate in the Indigenous art world. And it's not just a tension between remote and urban Indigenous artists; it's a tension that you find within both of these areas.
Now, while echoes of what you might call Aboriginal Zionism could be heard in Australia in the early 20th Century, it didn't really merge as a political movement and ideology - the ideology of Aboriginality until the late 1960s and then rarely in a fully?blown separatist form that it did in the case of the Jewish case. Rather, it merely sought to organise Aborigines on a national level as if they were a sort of parallel nation within the Australian white nation. Its best known advocate, Charles Perkins, was nurtured in the modern Australian education administrative system and this gave him a view of Aborigines that was a national rather than regional view. It was a view, he admitted, to which his own Arrernte People from which he had been taken, did not subscribe. His support came and the support that he eventually garnered around him came from a similarly educated and emerging urban Aboriginal Intelligentsia that took much of its inspiration from the Black Rights Movement in the USA. Its moment in the sun ...
VISUAL: Camera is still close-up on Ian McLean as he is speaking. Ian McLean leans behind the banner to change the slide and then stands back behind the lectern and continues speaking to the audience. The camera gradually pans back to show the overhead screen and Ian McLean standing at the bottom right of the screen. The image on the overhead screen is of three photographs with the heading: Aboriginal tent embassy. The photograph at the top left is of three Indigenous males sitting on the ground with placards in front of them (too small to read); the photo at the top right is of the tent with a table in front of the tent’s opening; and the photo on the bottom left is of a more permanent structure and the tent embassy’s flag is flying on a pole in the background.
Ian McLean: ... was the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. At the time Chicka Dixon commented: looking back on the movement from the time when we went on the 1966 Freedom Rides, which is often seen as the beginning of this Black Nationalism or Pan-Aboriginality, things have changed tremendously, he said, in those days you could only get two blacks involved, me and Charlie, but with a lot of white students on a bus. Today, when you ask blacks to move ... today, as meaning 1972, to move on a certain issue you can get a heap of them. So this sort of shift occurred then. The tent embassy even had its own flag; all the trappings of a nation but without a territory or a central government or everything else that goes with a nation. However, its principal cause, land rights, which is territory and self?determination, which is a sort of national idea, again, meant something very much different to the urban diaspora than it did to those living in remote Australia close to their country.
VISUAL: Camera begins to pan in for a close up on each individual photograph. First, the three men sitting on the ground with the placards in front of them.
Ian McLean: Such as those who formed the Papunya Tula Cooperative in the year of the Tent Embassy.
VISUAL: The camera pans across to a close up of the second photo: three people sitting on chairs behind a small table in front of a tent. The front verandah of the tent has a sign on it which reads Aboriginal Embassy. Two flags are flying above the tent. One flag is red black and green striped and the other flag is half yellow and half black with four sitting circles painted on it.
Ian McLean: The idea of an Aboriginal Nation never really took hold in Australia. Ironically, the idea of Aboriginality has had a greater impact on how white Australians ...
VISUAL: The camera pans down to a close up on the third photo at the bottom of the overhead screen. It is of a more permanent demountable-style structure with a sign above it which reads Tent Embassy. The Aboriginal flag is flying on a pole beside the building. Two people are in the photo – one is sitting in the foreground playing a guitar and another is sitting against the building. This photograph is labelled National Library of Australia on the left but the writing on the right is too small to read.
Ian McLean: ... conceived their national identity than on orchestrating an Aboriginal nationalism. We saw that at the 2000 Olympic Games, for example, with the opening ceremony there.
VISUAL: Camera pans in for a close up on Ian McLean standing at the lectern and speaking to the audience.
Ian McLean: So despite the flag, Aboriginal Australia is actually a much more ... is much more like a cosmopolitan space, a series of localities organised in a network of relations than a nation. Now, this is ... art centres are essential because remote life is organised differently to that of urban Australia. In urban Australia we are organised like a nation, a single nation. However, to strengthen culture art centres must ... and I think this is true whether you want to strengthen a national culture or you want to strengthen any culture, whether they're localised or national, to strengthen culture, art centres must engage with the wider world. If the Zionist model was close to how power was organised in the colonial era, that is powers organised through nations, the cosmopolitan model better serves ... sorry, better reflects the post?national world of globalism of today; though this statement might strike activists, who every day have to deal with the institutions of the nation state, as naive.
Remote Aboriginal art and the art centre model are well-placed, I think, to prosper in a globalised space of the contemporary art world if the art centre envisages itself as a collaborative trans?cultural space in which difference is something to be translated and brokered rather than jealously guarded. Now, this, in fact, is what's happening, I think. And I don't just mean the kids are on Facebook and the artists have mobile phones.
VISUAL: Ian McLean leans behind the banner to change the slide and then stands back behind the lectern and continues to speak to the audience. The camera pans back out to show the overhead screen and Ian McLean standing at the bottom right of the screen. The image on the overhead screen is of four photos. The top photo is of Antony labelled Antony and the Johnsons. Three photos are in a row underneath that appear to be of grasslands and a waterhole. The label across the bottom reads: Lynette Wallworth: Always Walking Country, Parrngurr Yarrkalpa, 2013
Ian McLean: Interestingly, the opening talk at the Desert Mob Symposium concerned the collaboration between a Sydney film-maker, Lynette Wallworth; a New York transgender signer, Antony, who I'd never heard of before but apparently he's very well?known of Antony and the Johnsons; and Martu Artists from the Martumili Art Centre and it was shown at the recent Adelaide Biennial. Currently, the Italian artist, Georgina (sic) (Giorgia) Severi is doing a relational?type art work with Balgo Artists for next year's Venice Biennale. So these, speaking to the outside world, is going on a lot. Now, this is not necessarily ... sorry, there ... now there is not ... this is not to say that there is a problem with the Desart mantra: Aboriginal traditional law or culture is the foundation of all the art. The issue is not that, the issue is how this mantra is interpreted. Is tradition something behind which to retreat? As if art and tradition is there ... and I'm quoting here, there to defend their children and grandchildren from the dark temptations of modernity. I'm quoting from Nicolas Rothwell who said he was quoting from some Amata senior men, Hector Burton and people like that.
VISUAL: Camera pans in for a close up on Ian McLean standing at the lectern and speaking to the audience.
Ian McLean: Or is tradition a launching pad into the modern globalised world? Which it sort of is in an art work like this. If it is the latter, the choice is not between art centres and dealers, black and white, or the Aboriginal art world and the Western art world or tradition and modernity; we can have both. As Sister Alice Dempsey discovered with the early Balgo painters, they incorporated iconography from two very different cosmological traditions; or had she already learnt this from these Kukatja men - you can hold both, you can hold both. Thank you.
VISUAL: Ian McLean leans behind the banner to turn off the slide show presentation. The camera pans out wide to show the guest speakers sitting on the tables on the stage. They are still sitting in the same positions as mentioned previously from left to right: Adam Boyd, Sr Alice Dempsey, Jimmy Tchooga, Jacqueline Healy then Ian McLean. (Ian McLean joins the group shortly. The overhead screen is in the background. Dr Jacqueline Healy is sitting and speaking into a microphone to the audience.
Jacqueline Healy: Can people hear me? It's on? Thanks, Ian for a great talk and raising some great issues in relation to art centres and now I'm going to introduce Jimmy Tchooga who's the Chair of Warlayirti Artists, he's also an artist in his own right and he was also with the senior men at Balgo in 1981 when they painted the church banners for Father Peile's silver jubilee. He was then a young man and now he's a senior man so he has seen many things happen at Balgo in the Art Centre over the years and now he's going to talk to us about Warlayirti Artists.
VISUAL: Camera pans in to focus on Jimmy Tchooga as he speaks into a microphone to the audience. Jacqueline Healy is just to the right of the screen.
Jimmy Tchooga: Hello, I'm Jimmy Tchooga, the Chairperson of Balgo Warlayirti Art. [50:58 - Unclear].
VISUAL: Jacqueline Healy leans in to speak with Jimmy Tchooga.
Jacqueline: Would you like a glass of water?
VISUAL: Sr Alice Dempsey pours a glass of water from a jug for Jimmy and he takes a sip.
VISUAL: Camera is on Jimmy Tchooga as he speaks into a microphone to the audience. Jacqueline Healy is just to the right of the screen.
Jimmy Tchooga: Also, I'm a [51:21 - unclear] man, cultural man and to them artefacts and things, everything over there. To culture, take them boys out bush, everywhere. And also I ... to [51:49 unclear – pick artefacts up ?] at home, with my son. I [52:02 unclear - love Warlayirti Art ?] and been working for a couple of years now. And also I was the Chairperson when it first opened up, the Warlayirti Art, I was the Chairperson.
VISUAL: Jacqueline Healy speaking with Jimmy Tchooga.
Jacqueline Healy (whispering to Jimmy): So what do you think ... I’ll just ask you a question. What do you think Warlayirti Art does for the community? Do you want to tell people why you think it’s important?
VISUAL: Jimmy Tchooga speaking into a microphone to the audience.
Jimmy Tchooga: Also Warlayirti Art [52:39 unclear – what I do ?] I sing with the people and also what they do a lot of art there. The first artwork, I do painting with just Alice and then I done the first painting. I’m the first men who done it, putting the painting on the rock. After that, I came here as a Chairperson for Warlayirti Art, again.
VISUAL: Jimmy looking at and speaking with Jacqueline Healy.
Jimmy (speaking to Jacqueline): I really don’t want to say anymore.
Jacqueline (whispering to Jimmy): Do you want to say anything else?
Jacqueline: I’ll just ... if you grab that other microphone.
VISUAL: Jacqueline Healy moves the microphone from in front of Jimmy to in front of her and she speaks into the microphone to the audience. She smiles and laughs when she mentions the joke about Melbourne having too many white people. Jacqueline looks at Jimmy when she’s asking if he’s finished speaking.
Jacqueline Healy: So Jimmy has come all the way from Balgo, he's been instrumental in the art movement there. One of the comments he made to be yesterday that the problem with Melbourne, there are too many white people (audience chuckling) which I'd just like to agree with that (all chuckling). And I just wondered if you might like to talk about what it means to the young people, that Art Centre? Or you've said enough; you've finished?
Jacqueline Healy: Well, what a great speech. Thank you so much.
VISUAL: Jacqueline Healy pats Jimmy Tchooga on the shoulder.
Jacqueline (to Jimmy): Well done, thank you.
VISUAL: Camera pans back out to show all five speakers sitting along the table on the stage. Jacqueline Healy is speaking into the microphone to the audience. The guests laugh when Jacqueline mentions Sr Alice’s comfortable journey.
Jacqueline Healy: And now, Jimmy's really introduced Sister Alice for me because Sister Alice, who has come all the way from Ireland; I think the journey might have been more comfortable than the journey from Balgo but (chuckling) ... 'cause she had ... she was driven all the way in luxury air conditioning in the plane. But she has been involved with Warlayirti ... or with Balgo since 1981 and I ... and has had an ongoing involvement and I will just hand it over to Sister Alice to tell the story but Jimmy has already introduced her as being there when those Balgo banners were painted in 1981 and being there at the beginning of the coming together, in a formal sense, of the art movement there. Over to you.
VISUAL: Camera pans in for a close up on Sister Alice Dempsey as she speaks into the microphone to the audience. Sitting beside her and listening is Adam Boyd on the left of the screen and Jimmy Tchooga on the right.
Sister Alice Dempsey: Thank you, Jackie. It's a bit daunting to be sitting up here, actually. I'm delighted that Jimmy’s sitting beside me to give me a bit of courage.
When I came to Balgo in 1981 I was first working in the primary school and a young man came to help me, by the name of Jagamara, and he asked if we could start an Adult Education to continue the adults' education so we started that and the people themselves marked out the place where we should go and it was the old dining hall and I remember Jimmy, here, was one of the people who helped in that, and we had to clean it all up and I remember Jimmy getting in the hose and washing down the floor and I said to him Jimmy, where's this water going to go? And he said it’ll go down the hole there, won't it? (Chuckling) So when we had set up, in a rough manner, I suppose; Jimmy came, one of the first days, with a painting and so he was the first one to introduce me to the Balgo painting. So after that then in 19 ... the end of 1981 we did set up an Adult Education Centre and we started. I hardly knew what I was doing, I was led by the people themselves and at the end of that year we had a ceremony for Father Peile, it was his silver jubilee and Father Peile had been working very closely with the community learning the culture and also writing their language ... helping them to write the language themselves and so Father Peile was a very significant person and we asked the men if they could do some art to decorate we say the church, at the side of the altar and they came up ... they did not know what we were asking them. I did not know what I was asking. But they were thrown because I didn't realise that when they did their painting it was always about their land so I was asking them to do something for church. So they hesitated but they came up with ... I think it was five beautiful paintings and they're still on show out here now. But to me, that was the beginning of the ... well, no, people were drawing and painting out in the desert before that. I didn't ... it was ... they transmitted their beautiful paintings on to these banners for the church and that was one of the things that happened.
And then after that, the young men like Gary Njamme and his family and all those people, Helicopter was in it at that time, and Larry and Jimmy, here, and they started, then, to do banners, other banners for the church for different feast days. These banners are still preserved today. So, in a way, that was the beginning of the art movement in the Adult Centre. We did not know where we were going. I didn't know where we were going at all. I didn't think it was happening like ... as the people wanted and then we did up the Adult Centre, we extended it a bit and another young man came along by ...
VISUAL: Sr Alice Dempsey looking at and speaking with Jimmy Tchooga.
Sister Alice speaking to Jimmy: Can I say Matthew's name?
VISUAL: Sr Alice Dempsey turns back to speak into the microphone to the audience.
Sister Alice Dempsey: By the name of Matthew Gill and Matthew said to me just before Christmas, he said can the ... we were just going home, the extension was completed and he said can the old men come here to do their art? And I said wonderful. And that was the beginning. And so when we opened the doors, the old people came in and sat around. Matthew, really, was the advisor 'cause I did not know, I knew nothing about Aboriginal art. So he was the advisor, [60:18 unclear – so we had ?] advisors along the way. In the beginning, we just used calico, paper, whatever we could get and some of these paper drawings are still out there, you can see them, that they did at that time.
So that was the beginning, really, I suppose, of the ... that movement ... of the movement, yeah. And later on that ... oh, yes then in ... it continued then and more people came in to do art and the women were invited in to do it; Matthew invited the women in and they did their own, sometimes on calico. And so Matthew had the great vision of having an art exhibition. It was his thought, it was his vision to have that and so in 1986 we had the first exhibition in Perth, the Art Gallery in Perth and it was a great success because it sold ... it really sold off the walls, anything was sellable. And so that was the beginning and then after that, the Arts Council, I think it was, that gave us money for an art manager. So then ... well, it was on the way then. Okay and ...
VISUAL: Sister Alice Dempsey looks and speaks to Jimmy Tchooga.
Sister Alice to Jimmy: You want to say anything else?
VISUAL: Sister Alice Dempsey looking at and speaking to the audience.
Sister Alice Dempsey: So it's going strong. I mean what has happened since then? Of course, it has extended and extended and you can see it in there, what beautiful art has been produced and it is going strong today and I do hope it's a real ... the Art Centre in Balgo is one of the most important places for people and they see it as theirs, it's a community centre and they very much see it as theirs and they have a great say in it, they have their own board of management and I'm always very thrilled to go in there to see how it is managed ... has been managed over the years. Thank you.
VISUAL: Camera pans out to show all five guests sitting at the table. Jacqueline Healy is speaking into the microphone to the audience.
Jacqueline Healy: And for some of you in the audience might be aware of Susie Bootja Bootja and Mick Gill, Matthew Gill was their son. So he was that younger generation who was actually leading the older people and was, in fact, a bridge with the art market in those early days in the 1980's.
VISUAL: Camera pans in to focus on Adam Boyd sitting at the table with a microphone in front of him. He is looking to his left at Jacqueline Healy who is speaking but off?screen. He is smiling and laughs as Jacqueline introduces him with the wrong surname.
Now, I have great pleasure in introducing, with the correct first name, I'm concentrating very hard, Adam Bond ...
Adam Boyd: Boyd. (All laughing)
Jacqueline Healy: Oh sorry, did I say the wrong thing again? Oh, I'm so sorry, it's just been a long, long day.
Adam Boyd: (Laughing) Mm.
Jacqueline Healy: But you know who you are, that’s the most important thing.
Adam Boyd: I know who I am.
Jacqueline Healy: From Warmun Art Centre and he's going to talk about the Art Centre and the great innovative things its currently doing. Thank you for coming.
VISUAL: Camera is close-up on Adam Boyd as he is speaking into the microphone to the audience. Sr Alice Dempsey is to the right of the screen and listening to Adam as he speaks.
Adam Boyd: Thank you. I should start by sending the apologies of Rusty Peters and, in fact, all of the artists who are from Warmun who came to Melbourne for the exhibition who are unable to attend tonight. Their collective age is somewhere around 240 between the three of them, we don't really know but they're roughly 80 years old each. It is a huge undertaking for them simply to travel here, let alone to come to an exhibition opening, to participate in a conference, to perform at the National Gallery of Victoria tomorrow night; by any standards, I think it's quite an achievement so we need to be understanding of their need to sleep which they're doing.
I'd like to talk a little bit about Warmun's current trajectory and to, perhaps, explain how we approach some of the ideas, how we approach some of the problems that have been raised tonight, earlier. For us, everything begins and ends with the Gija mob. It is entirely our role to facilitate what it is that they value and the things that they want to promote within the Art Centre and more generally through the cultural initiatives that we support. So at every turn, we consult with the Gija mob and ask them directly what is it that you want? What do you want this to look like? Where do you want it to go? So we're getting better and better at doing that. We're by no means perfect, I don't think any art centre is and probably never will be; but we certainly put a lot of energy into getting the balance right and in speaking as plainly and as clearly as we can with each other and it is very much a two?way conversation. So we have a ... we're ... the success of Warmun Art Centre over recent years, and we think ... we hope that this will carry us through into the future, comes from ... really, from the artists. It is nothing without those artists and it is everything because of the fabulous lineage of artists who lined up to make it what it is. Every successive generation of artists that we support seems to have the same extraordinary facility for making art and telling stories that have come to, I guess, to make Warmun Art Centre what it is. The current generation of senior artists are an outstanding collection of people and we're blessed to have so many of them. I think their great number and as well as their skill is one of the most important factors behind our success because there is a great breadth and depth to the kinds of work that they do and the stories that they tell.
We support the work at the Art Centre and in every way that we can primarily, through ... historically, we've supported that through the support of the practise in the studios of getting people to paint, of preparing boards, and going out on bush trips and collecting the ochres and helping with the grinding up of the ochres, mixing them and so on, but increasingly, our activities are focused on a more general form of cultural support which I think Ian was alluding to before, which is around support for language and trips to country. It's fair to say that one's country and one's language and one's skin lies at the heart of everything that happens within Gija culture. I can only speak for Gija culture because I haven't had ... well, I'm simply ... I'm barely authorised to speak for them, let alone other Aboriginal groups. But they are the foundations of everything that happens within the art practice at the studio. I think we all share a desire to, perhaps, one day to see the end of, if not, the art centre than the idea of the art centre. There's a kind of strangeness about the idea of an art centre which grows every day because of its rarefied and singularised position towards production of painting. It's an unsustainable idea and one that we try to turn away from wherever we can.
Obviously, our success is based on our ability to work both sides; as [68:49 unclear – guardia ?], we're there to promote the work and to get it out to the marketplace and to protect individual artist's standings within the art community; but at the same time, it's only one of an asp ... it's only one aspect of a broad range of cultural practices which we need to value more and more. I think that it's something that Australians, in general, need to appreciate as much as they are able to in the future, as well, that Aboriginal culture is incredibly broad, involves, for us, Joonba or corroboree, there are song cycles that are sung regularly, ceremonially, the very act of hunting and fishing is a cultural past-time that connects people to their countries, it keeps the language strong. All of these pieces fit together to make a strong culture and primarily, that is the business of the Art Centre, to keep them ... to keep supporting Gija culture in whatever way that we can and that's what we do.
For the future, we're planning to undertake more projects such as the one that we've put together downstairs which is an exhibition that brings together a more scholarly catalogue that researches the stories of the paintings and the paintings themselves are a telling of a ... well, it's really a single story that crosses a number of countries from east to west, across Gija Country. It's the story, of course, of Garnkiny, the man who becomes the moon. It's a complex and fascinating story about mortality, of sex and death and desire, of skin obligations. It's a very complex and nuanced story which we are attempting to bring to light in ways that non?Aboriginal audiences, non?Gija audiences can understand. This is a very important part of what we do is to bridge the gap between black fellas and white fellas and we do projects like this, in part, to open up those stories to wide audiences but also to make them available to future generations of Gija People who will, as time goes by, become more interested in language and culture than perhaps they are today.
So we will be looking at a range of stories that cover a range of countries in the coming years. The main idea is to get, I suppose to be completely frank, is to bring a little more traction to what the Gija mob do so that we can open up more audiences in Australia and overseas. It will be the ... an important part of our spearhead into North America and into Europe to, I suppose, broaden the conversation and deepen the understanding, that's really what lies at the heart of it.
We've established, in the last couple of years, a media lab. The idea of the media lab is to document stories; to go out onto country with Elders and younger people to capture stories and also record them for the future generations; to develop skill?sets for younger people who are having as many problems as I think their parents and grandparents did straddling the two worlds. But we see the media lab as an important way of connecting to culture, of capturing story and giving strong vocational skills to young people who are looking for different ways to express themselves.
We run language classes, as I said they're a very important part of what we do at the Art Centre but all of these things are non?core art centre activities. It is, however, what people want so it's what we do and at all times we defer back to the Gija mob to find out not just what they want to do but the best way to do it; that consultation process happens at every level. We would ... I'm a little bit embarrassed to be sitting here, actually, talking like this because it is policy of ours to always have Gija mob speaking for themselves and not have some [73:20 unclear – Guardia ?] like me step in and put words into their mouths. It's always more interesting and more desirable for us when one of the mob is at the microphone explaining in their own words what happened. So in a nutshell, that's Warmun Art Centre.
VISUAL: Camera pans back to show all five guest speakers sitting on the table on the stage. Jacqueline Healy is speaking into a microphone to the audience. Whilst they are waiting for a microphone to be handed to the next speaker Adam Boyd and Alice Dempsey and speaking together. The other three are sitting patiently waiting but not speaking. Please note the unidentified male is off?screen as he speaks. Camera remains focused on the five speakers on the stage.
Jacqueline Healy: Thanks, Adam. Now, I was going to hand it over to you, I know we're running a little bit late and wondered if there were any questions from the audience. Oh, sorry, yeah? We've got a microphone coming around.
Unidentified Male: Hello, I just wanted to put this to the panel as a whole but perhaps it was raised by Ian in terms of the way that he talked about the way in which Aboriginal art has shifted in terms of being, I guess, from the views on the ... over a temporal period of time from what he called primitive art or what was generally called primitive art to contemporary art but also, I think, there's an interesting transition between when you see art in the community and then see it on the walls in a gallery and so forth, and there's this ... and I've noticed a shift in itself. And I just wanted to put to the panel as to whether that's something that can be seen as different or is it just simply the position of the viewer?
Jacqueline Healy: Who would like to answer that question? Ian, would you like to have a go first?
VISUAL: Camera is still focused on all five speakers sitting at the table on the stage. Jacqueline Healy passes the microphone to Ian McLean who is sitting beside her. Ian McLean speaking into the microphone and looking at the audience member who is off?screen.
Ian McLean: Thanks, Jackie. Well, I think all art looks different in different contexts. So you walk into a studio down the road and look at the art there and then go and look at it ... whether it's Aboriginal art or Western art, the context almost over?determines how you interpret the work. And once it's in the National Gallery of Victoria, well, you start to then revere it, don't you? Just because it's in the National Gallery of Victoria. And that, I think, that's what I was trying to get at when I talked about this badging - if it's primitive art, it goes in the museum; if it's fine art, it goes in the art gallery. So yeah, the meanings change completely as like in a land rights claim, how you see the arts. I think that's a normal, natural thing that I don't think you can argue against; because it's just a fact of life.
VISUAL: Same camera angle as before. The guest speakers are looking at the male speaker in the audience who is off?screen.
Unidentified Male: But does that shift between the ... I guess, what a community wants for that piece of work, let's say it's the same piece of work, and then what will operate within Western contemporary art?
VISUAL: Same camera angle as before. Ian McLean is speaking into the microphone.
Ian McLean: Yeah, I know. I mean artists complain about this all the time, don't they? Not just Aboriginal artists, Western artists complain all the time that the curator or the art critic has come in and hung their workthere and made it look awful and changed ... or the art critic has totally misinterpreted their work and I mean this is what happens when you move from one discourse, like the community discourse over to the ... over to another discourse. So I ... all these things are very real with Aboriginal art but I think they're very real with all arts; so I don't think it's something that is any different, really, for any art world. They’re all things that we have to ... or that you have to deal with. I've just recently examined a PhD where someone did a lot of research into the buying patterns of Indigenous art and one really interesting thing that came out was that people said look, I ... and this was a survey done in Alice Springs and Darwin where people had access to art ... direct access to art communities more than perhaps most people, they said if I want to support the community, I go and buy from the art community but if I want to get a really good art work I go to the dealer. Because they believed that the dealer had the better quality work than the community. And I thought that was interesting and I think it might be that perhaps the quality mightn’t be different but it might be the way the dealer frames the work compared to how it's framed in the art community.
VISUAL: Same camera angle as before. Jacqueline takes the microphone from Ian McLean and placed it in front of herself and speaks into the microphone whilst looking at the audience member who is off?screen.
Jacqueline Healy: Just to add to that, the banners that are in the current exhibition, there's a comment made in the catalogue that the banners were consciously painted to be hung vertically. So when the senior men and the senior men working with the junior men did those banners for Father Peile they were conscious about how they were hung in that regard and that was the first example of that, where people were consciously thinking about how the wall ... how their work might be arranged on the wall.
VISUAL: Same camera angle as before. Jacqueline Healy looking at and speaking to the guest speakers beside her on the table.
Jacqueline Healy: Anyone else like to make a comment on that issue? No?
Adam Boyd: No.
Jacqueline Healy: Okay, any other questions?
VISUAL: Same camera angle as before. All speakers are sitting looking at and listening to the female speaker who is off?screen.
Unidentified Female: I have ... can you hear me? I have a question for Jimmy Tchooga. Jimmy, where do you see your Aboriginal-owned Art Centre, how do you see it developing in the future?
VISUAL: Jacqueline Healy moves the microphone in front of Jimmy Tchooga and speaks with him.
Jacqueline (speaking to Jimmy): What do you think? Do you want to answer that one?
Jimmy (speaking to Jacqueline): No, thank you.
Jacqueline: No. You don't want to answer it? No. Do you want me to answer it for you?
Jimmy (speaking to Jacqueline): Yeah.
VISUAL: Same camera angle as before. Jacqueline Healy now has the microphone back in front of her and she is speaking into it and looking at the audience who is off?screen.
Jacqueline Healy: Yeah, I think that what Jimmy has said to me before about this is he sees the Art Centre as something being very important to the local community and very important to the ... for culture and passing down stories and playing that role and there's a beautiful piece written by Jimmy in the catalogue which talks about the importance of the Art Centre and the importance of giving young people in Balgo an alternative to gunja, to marijuana, and to that educational role between Elders and young people.
If there are no more questions, I would just like you to join me in thanking the speakers. We're so lucky to have Jimmy, here, from Balgo; Sister Alice, here, from Ireland; Adam, here, from Warmun; and Ian, here, from Wollongong. If we could just thank them all for a very stimulating evening's discussion.
VISUAL: RMIT University logo and www.rmit.edu.au.
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