Home has its own geography, its own poetry and its own art. In the Northern Territory, and in north Australia, we live in one of the most seductive—and in art terms—productive parts of the country. Home is not only where we were born, it is also where we choose to live and work creatively, whether as artists, writers, historians or curators.
As curator of the Charles Darwin University Art Collection, Anita Angel works primarily with objects: the art of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who live in the region, or are connected to the place in a way which informs and inspires them, and can define them culturally. Yet as objects, the works in the collection are neither disembodied nor anonymous.
In selecting, cataloguing, exhibiting and publishing research about this art, a bond is created between artists as creative individuals, their communities, and the University. Through contact with artists, relationships are forged which are neither political nor academic, but intensely human.
The University Art Collection may be regarded as a storehouse of treasures, but it is also a living repository: a vast and delicate web of connections between people and places which spans the life of CDU and its history of community engagement with the region.
Our Home: Charles Darwin University Art Collection, recent acquisitions (19 October – 3 November 2006) brought together 73 works by 51 artists for whom north Australia—in particular the NT—is ‘home’ for their art. It comprised paintings on linen, canvas and board, works on paper, woven items such as baskets and fish traps, sculptures in ironwood, pandanus and fibre, photographs and limited editions prints.
The artists represented (29 female and 22 male) were from the Territory (the Top End, Centre and Western Desert), Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. Indigenous artists from the NT included those residing in Darwin, Ramingining, Maningrida, the Tiwi Islands, Roper River in South East Arnhem Land, Wadeye-Port Keats and Kintore.
Western Australian artists were from Kiwirrkurra, the Kimberley, Patjarr and Balgo. The South Australian artists were from Ernabella community, situated near the tri-border of the NT, SA and WA. There was one artist from Badu Island, in the Torres Strait, north Queensland.
Non-Indigenous artists represented in the exhibition were those currently residing in Darwin and the rural area, Alice Springs, and others who have established a connection with the region—with the place or its people.
A number of artists in the exhibition also had a connection to the University itself, or with other educational institutions such as Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. Many were graduates of the art school, former or current lecturers or tutors, artists-in-residence, printers or printmaking technicians.
The exhibition was inspired by a series of works on paper from the Art Collection. Darwin artist Chayni Henry’s six modestly scaled but enchanting watercolours of caravans gave the exhibition its unifying thread and visual undertow. What better metaphor for the momentum of life, the seasonal shifts in population and the transitory nature of human existence in the NT, than a home on wheels!
In essence, Our Home was about art from where we live: a distinct and challenging environment whose essence and presence artists have gifted to us in visual terms. It reflected a ‘northern perspective’—the idea that north Australia is a region unified by climate, proximity to South East Asia and connections to Indigenous communities—rather than national borders. Its message was local and global: home is about life, not ‘lifestyle’.
Attendance on the opening night and for the exhibition’s duration reflected its broad appeal and relevance, comprising a cross-section of the local community, visitors from the Darwin rural area, staff from the University’s academic, administrative and vocational centres from several campuses, students, local artists and visiting artists from Alice Springs (Neridah Stockley) and interstate (Anne-Marie May).
Mention should also be made of guests from remote areas who made a special trip to Darwin to participate in the exhibition’s opening: Tiwi artists Jean Baptiste Apuatimi and Margaret Renée Kerinauia, along with Tim and Angela Hill (art advisers from Tiwi Design, Nguiu, Bathurst Island) and their children; students and exhibiting artists from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Thamarrurr School in Wadeye-Port Keats (including Barbara Narndu, Marjorie Nemarluk and Priscilla Parmbuk), teacher Joan Lancaster and co-principal Anne Rebgetz.
Following the official opening of the exhibition by Vice-Chancellor Professor Helen Garnett, Patron of the University Art Collection, Tim Hill felt moved to make an impromptu speech, which in many ways encapsulated the spirit of the exhibition and the purpose of a university art collection in the region. It is worth reproducing in full:
‘On behalf of the artists at Tiwi Design, especially Jean Baptiste Apuatimi and Thomas Munkanome, we would sincerely like to thank Anita and Charles Darwin University for including our work in the collection and inviting us to attend the opening of Our Home. Jean Baptiste Apuatimi is here tonight and it is an honour to work with such a talented artist with strong ties to culture. It is extremely important for remote Indigenous communities and artists like Jean and Thomas to feel included in such an exhibition and an occasion as this. All the artists at Tiwi Design are very proud to be part of the Darwin and Northern Territory community of artists and to be represented in a group collection alongside artists from many different backgrounds. It really is a wonderful honour to be part of the broader arts community and we look forward to continuing to build strong ties in the future.’ [transcript courtesy of Tim Hill, Tiwi Design, Bathurst Island, 31 October 2006]
As an exhibition, Our Home sought to demonstrate that art is a ‘two-way relationship’: it requires someone to make it, and someone to view and appreciate it. Engagement with art, including work from the University Art Collection, may lead to new perceptions which ‘change your world’—and ‘our home’, as we know it.
For more information contact: Anita Angel, 8946 6621 or email email@example.com or Linda Cuttriss, coordinator community engagement, 8946 6336 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Anita Angel, curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection. Images by Kelly Scurr, School of Creative Arts and Humanities, CDU.