Partnering with remote Indigenous Art Centres to deliver a landmark digital project that empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to create and share unique arts and cultural experiences with the world.
Artists at Iltja Ntjarra Art Centre are Western Aranda people and paint their Country using the watercolour techniques passed on by Albert Namatjira down family lines, known as the Hermannsburg School of painting. The Country the artists paint is not empty or silent or anonymous landscape; it is alive with individual, family and cultural identity and responsibility. This deep cultural continuity flows from one generation to the next.
Over recent years many artists at Iltja Ntjarra have begun to incorporate elements in their work that highlight contemporary political and social issues. Their watercolours have included the presence of Macdonald signs, bull dozers and toxic waste to comment on concerns for the health of Country and community and the impact of outside interests on safe and secure futures for themselves and their families. To amplify this thematic, this current project recycles discarded roadsigns to tell urgent stories about the need to protect Country.
Roadsigns are a familiar way of controlling or directing behaviour. Here the original words and slogans are reworked to redirect behaviour and raise awareness. For instance, ‘NO EXIT’ becomes ‘NO DIG IT’, ‘GRID becomes GREED’, FLOODWAY becomes OUR BLOODWAY. These new slogans are combined with watercolour paintings and graphic symbols of earth moving and fracking equipment to send strong messages about the artists’ concerns and perspectives.
Each of the contributing artists painted a significant place incorporating the story of their homeland, urging everyone to look after Country and respect their culture, to protect their land from destruction and to listen to the viewpoints of traditional owners and custodians.
Selma Coulthard has painted her Country at Tempe Downs, southwest of Alice Springs. This country has been in her family for generations, and she has concerns over who has control of its future. Vanessa Inkamala implores mining companies not to dig up Country while Kathy Inkamala states, ‘People are destroying the vegetation on the country; mining companies are taking over the country and taking it from traditional owners.’
Senior artist and spokesperson, Mervyn Rubuntja consistently speaks out against threats to the groundwater supply, “There is so much mining happening round this country. It’s not good. It destroys what’s underground. It’s going to destroy this land and ruin the water. That’s why so many people are against fracking. Everything will die and we can’t drink our water”.
The Iltja Ntjarra artists have dedicated decades of committed artistic practice to the respectful and close study of their Country. These works bring viewers into this practice of Kangkwerrama or respectfully taking notice. For those unfamiliar with Central Australian landscape, the works are captivating depictions of beautiful landscapes vastly different to the concrete jungles of the coastal urban cities. The messages they convey command attention, reworking the words of the colonial state to speak plainly and clearly, to demand respect for Country, its stories and people.
UPLANDS is an immersive digital project that has been designed to celebrate Indigenous Art Centres and share Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artistic and cultural practices with the world.
This large scale immersive digital mapping project features over twenty remote Indigenous Art Centres, and interviews with over 150 Indigenous artists and arts workers from across the country.
UPLANDS is a project by Agency and has been funded by the Australian Government through the Restart to Invest, Sustain and Expand (RISE) program and the Indigenous Visual Art Industry Support (IVAIS) program.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Sovereign Custodians of the land on which we live and work. We extend our respects to their Ancestors and all First Nations peoples and Elders past, present, and future.