Charmaine Papertalk Green reflects on her visit to the Tarnanthi Festival
I recently travelled from Western Australia to Adelaide to experience the inaugural Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art showcasing and celebrating Indigenous culture – Tarnanthi 2015. Whilst the visual arts dominated the festival scape, it is the incredible power of storytelling woven throughout the many creations and Tarnanthi that resonated with me. In this edition of FNAWN I share some insights from Ali Cobby Eckermann and on the Kapi Ungupayi/He gave us Water exhibition.
In Conversation with Ali Cobby Eckermann
I was particularly pleased to reconnect and spend some time with South Australian poet, writer and sculptor Ali Cobby Eckermann. Ali was involved in several Tarnanthi events – the Aboriginal Arts Fair held at Tandanya, Our Mob 2015 exhibition and writing response poetry to artist Yhonnie Scarce’s glass installation “Thunder raining poison” in the Art Gallery of South Australia.
In conversation we spoke of the place of writers and their books at these types of Festivals and Art Fairs, her inspirations behind creating the wire sculptures and writing a poetic response to Yhonnie Scarces installation.
It was refreshing to have a conversation around the place of Aboriginal literature in Festival and Art Fairs/Markets – many times literature is not mentioned let alone included in these events . Ali reinforced that writing is art therefore it had a place at these events and should be encouraged at all Art Fairs/Markets around Australia:
“I was invited to the Aboriginal Arts Fair by Nici Cumpston who encouraged all art forms to be present. The quality of all artists including all writers allowed me to place my books at the Arts Fair which was an opportunity to promote and discuss and allowed sales. I was asked if I had a Certificate of Authenticity to explain the background of my sculpture and I said “No I have a book which does the same thing”. I really felt that people at the Arts Market liked the combination of the art, literature and poetry. Most people would not have the money to buy the sculpture but 90% of people brought a book”.
Ali created two barbed wire powder coated fish trap installations for exhibiting at the Art Fair and the Our Mob 2015 Exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre Artspace Gallery. I asked Ali what her inspiration was behind creating the two sculptures:
“It was a visit back to the Eckermann Farm to a paddock called the ‘other place’, it was the only paddock with a red sand hill. That was a place I loved because it had a red sand hill. There was an old dump filled with old fencing wire. I got this glimpse of this fish trap. The healing part for me was to use old materials from my adopted families and recreate it into a beautiful Aboriginal sculpture which felt like it replicated my journey today. The sculpture reinforces my writing in a very personal way.”
The South Australia Writers Centre organised for 8 Aboriginal writers, 2 interstate and 6 South Australian, to write poetic response to selected Tarnanthi at the Gallery artworks at the Art Gallery of South Australia. I had a yarn with Ali over the phone about the readings:
“It was really well attended there were 8 writers responding to artworks organised by SA Writers Centre. The readings were very beautiful and profound. I wrote a poetic response to Yhonnie Scarce’s installation “Thunder rain and poison”. A lady came up to me after the reading and said that the poem changed the energy in the room- something happened. The profoundness of the poetry readings stayed with the writers for some time – we all hung out with each other for some time afterwards. It was healing, emotive and powerful.”
I would like to sincerely thank Ali for sharing for our FNAWN Newsletter.
“Kapi Ungupayi/He gave us Water” exhibition
On my last day in Adelaide I got a phone call from my AACHWA colleague saying “you better get down here Charmaine you will just love this exhibition”. When I walked into the SASA Gallery I was overwhelmed by what greeted me, and in a really good way. The exhibition was about the journey of five women in remote Western Australia (Blackstone and Wingellina), represented by the five tiny grass woven women figures greeting me at the entry point into the Gallery. One of the exhibition curators kindly spoke with me about the inspiration behind the exhibition and the stories woven into each exhibition element from the painted Toyota panel to the Sorry Business Camp stitched blankets.
The story tellers were five desert women who had gone out bush to gather punu (wood) for carving and their Toyota ran out of petrol stranding them for five days out in the desert. The women had to draw upon the cultural teachings and traditional knowledge handed down to them to find water and food to survive. The women describe this journey as the creation of a new tjukurpa (dreaming story), and every element of this new tjukurpa was present in the exhibition. They survived on goanna for food – there were grass woven standing goanna’s. They recalled being told stories of how finch birds would gather where there was water (holy water), they followed the finch birds, dug for water and found the holy water – there were finch bird paintings and an installation with hand woven finch birds gathering for water. A panel from the Toyota they drove into the bush was painted and exhibited – the vehicle part of this new dreaming story. Their traditional knowledge and stories handed down gave hope as the women sung songs in their country and to their country – a powerful video presentation was beautiful with calming sounds of singing flowing throughout SASA Gallery.
Additionally, “Kapi Ungupayi/He gave us water” is a response to the governments and others to understand living on remote communities is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ there is a reason for being in and on ancestral country:
“The people are here for a reason: to look after the land and the culture, and to keep that strong…”
Roma Peterman Butler, Ivy Laidlaw, Jennifer Mitchell, Tjawina Roberts and Mrs Woods. Tarnanthi 2015