Words by Seren Bell
The second coming of TARNANTHI! Art from the oldest living culture in Australia. A vast and wonderful landscape of exhibitions. Fear of missing out ironically traps you in your bed reading this article by the soft, blue light of your hot laptop. How do you begin?
With a glass of wine and a basket weaving class, as all things ought to begin.
Yewth Spoke to powerhouse curators Nici Cumpston and Lisa Slade about this Friday’s First Fridays event at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) where Lisa promises “we don’t just keep the doors open, we kind of have things happening everywhere, for everyone.” Even for you, my friend.
“No two First Fridays are the same!”, Lisa Slade, Assistant Director of Artistic Programs at AGSA, tells me with excitement. “[W]hat we do is, the backdrop exhibition informs the flavour of the event”. This week TARNANTHI is that flavour and, as promised, this includes basket weaving, as well as local music, wine, and gallery tours. “First Fridays is really our most important offering in some ways because it’s really offering something for everybody,” Lisa says. Nici then gives an enthusiastic description of TARNANTHI, which makes this Friday at AGSA seem all the more inviting.
I ask Nici to start by introducing herself; she takes a breath and says very quickly that she’s “the Artistic Director of TARNANTHI Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torrens Straight Islander Art and Curator of Aboriginal and Torrens Straight Islander Art, here at the Art Gallery of South Australia.” It’s, an impressive start, and testament to her lung capacity. Nici is articulate, effusive, and eager to express her pride in TARNANTHI. Language is also clearly important to her, and she starts by explaining the meaning and importance of the titles and words within the festival. ‘Tarnanthi’, she explains, “means the first light of day, the first sight of a seed sprouting, so in many cultures that new light, that first light, it’s a metaphor for a new beginning.” It’s a word which was settled upon after collaboration with elders at the Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi language revival unit at the University of Adelaide. Nici explains that ‘Tarnanthi’ works both as a title and an overarching theme because “…most of the artists who I’ve been working with have got really strong ideas. They’re working from an ancestral creation story, which is a strong theme. It’s not anything I'm gonna mess with.”
‘Kulila’ also acts as a theme in many of the works this year, a word which means “listen” in Western Aranda and “everyone listen” in Pitjantjatjara, Nici tells me. Every face has a story, every story has a face: Kulila! (above) is a series of soft sculpture self-portraits made from hand dyed blankets, vividly embroidered by the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists from the Larapinta Valley Town Camp which Nici gives as an example of this theme. “it’s about listening to people and actually hearing what it is that they’re trying to say to us through the creation of the works of art”, she says. The sculptures are accompanied by a video portrait “that tells you a little more about the centre and how they've all worked really closely together to build a better life for themselves while living on the outskirts of Alice Springs in a town camp”.
She also singles out the work of Mumu Mike Williams who has the Pitjantjatjara word ‘Kulila’ painted on Commonwealth mailbags over warnings against using the bags for anything other than mail delivery “…otherwise you’re breaking the commonwealth law. Well, he’s painted over the top of them and said ‘This is our law. Tjukurpa is our traditional law…this is our law”. She also touches on a moving image and sound collaboration between two young artists, Gutingarra Yunupingu and Ishmael Marika, in which Yunupingu has recorded a song to accompany historical footage. “[Yunupingu] is deaf, so by watching the sound waves on the computer and watching the knees of the dancers in the performance he’s been able to sync. So, it’s about listening, but it’s also about learning and understanding and having deep knowledge,” Nici says.
Naturally, you now want to go to every First Friday, and so you should. Lisa proudly lists all the treasures the event offers: “We do things like book launches, we do workshops, we do yoga classes…we always theme it around the current exhibition offering…we absolutely work hard to make sure that the flavour if the exhibition flows through the building. So, you can enter any part of the building, the whole building’s open…and you can feel the art.”
If you’d like to feel the art, First Friday’s is this Friday, and the first Friday of every month.
First Fridays- MARNI NIINA PUDNI: Welcome to TARNANTHI is this Friday November 3rd from 5-9pm and it's free