Printmaking in Kakadu creates new Indigenous enterprise 

Mandy Muir and Philip Alderson

Creative spirit, innovation and development in Indigenous arts have not been dampened by the recent downpours in Kakadu National Park. With increased participation in business, artists are increasingly taking advantage of new opportunities to create and market their work.

Indigenous artists are beginning to determine their own models for independent enterprise. One such model is Murdudjurl Art Centre, an arts enterprise within the fully Aboriginal owned and operated company, Murdudjurl Pty Ltd.

Mandy Muir, Managing Director of Murdudjurl, recently negotiated with Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Kakadu Community Development to hold a one week printmaking workshop from 27 to 31 March. In addition to this, a Memento Awards Workshop was held by Queensland’s ‘Creative Economy’ facilitator Darren Jones, at Gadudju Lodge Cooinda on 1 April. Twenty-four participants attended the printmaking workshop, led by master printmaker, Leon Stainer and a similar number attended the one day Memento event.

The printmaking workshop was funded by CDU and 22 of the participants were accommodated at Gagudju Lodge Cooinda. Jobfind through the Kakadu Employment Centre assisted with the purchase of printmaking materials. Both events were coordinated by Kakadu Community Development.

The Memento Awards Workshop provided an outlet for artists to explore issues such as artist’s rights, contractual agreements, wholesale and retail practices, product development, packaging, marketing and a host of other topics.

The workshop was designed to assist with the creative arts industry both within the fine arts and more broadly, within the tourism industry. Darren Jones provided highly relevant information, and has agreed to continue to assist with a number of requests put forward by artists, including pricing and contract advice when negotiating with local wholesale buyers.

Collaboration between these organisations provided a great opportunity for professional development for the emerging and professional artists who attended the workshops. Most significant however, is the contribution and attitude of the people who created the work. Leon found this workshop to be one of the best he has ever facilitated throughout his years of experience in remote NT communities.

“It was their optimism, positive attitude and pride that made this such a great success. People were so engaged and motivated,” he said.

New skills developed were mainly lino cut printing, a relief technique, and etching, known as intaglio. The particular etching technique at the workshop used dry point to create a soft edged line and later acid to provide a deeper and sharper line. Aquatint was then used to create a coloured background to the finely drawn images. Images were printed with a portable press using high quality inks and paper.

Artists attending included established names such as Abel Naborlhborlh, Ivan Namarnyilk, Mark Djandjomerr, Margaret Japoon, known for her weaving, as well as a host of newcomers.

Philip Alderson, brother of traditional owner Jessie Alderson, and uncle of Murdudjurl Managing Director, Mandy Muir, made his first image using a lino cut. Mandy continued to create interesting and engaging works. Jasmine Nabobbob created exquisite yam designs and Annie Cameron created some unique etchings of local bush tucker and flowers.

All the artists were completely engaged in the process, and the outcomes are testament to not only their skills, but also to their local cultural knowledge. It is heartening that new avenues of art production provide opportunities for engagement in cultural activities and knowledge preservation.

The final evening of the workshop proved to be a night of celebration and festivities, with two of the artists, Abel Naborlhborlh and Ivan Namarnyilk, presenting their first prints as a token of appreciation for the service provided by Gagudju Lodge Cooinda staff. Jeff Gillies, in particular, gave great personal support to the event.

There are bright developments on the horizon for editioning of the artists’ prints. Before the workshop had even finished, the artists received a number of requests to purchase their work.

Two more printmaking workshops with CDU will follow this inaugural one. Each workshop will see the continued refinement of the prints and plates. New techniques will be explored. Business management will be discussed. Thanks to Leon Stainer, September is set as the date for the first official showing of the new Kakadu Indigenous Printmaking group.

There are many challenges along the way, but these new initiatives are a great start towards increased well-being and a transparent, robust and creative Indigenous art market. Kakadu artists are standing up proud and independently. They are re-defining the Indigenous art market in Kakadu National Park, and above all, they are doing it for themselves.

Story by Caroline Rannersberger - Manager Kakadu Community Development. Caroline can be contacted on 0409 000 295.