Mapping the Regions of Indigenous Art Communities

Despite being one of the oldest art traditions, Indigenous Australian art remained relatively unknown to the broader world until the second half of the 20th Century, when artist communities emerged. Ahead of our Indigenous Art auction in February 2021, I’d like to highlight some of the key regions encompassing Australia’s diverse Indigenous artforms as well as some of their key artist communities.

Desert Region
Although the vast Central and Western desert regions of Australia are amongst the driest in the country, the artist communities in these areas are responsible for producing some of the richest and most visually dynamic Indigenous art.

The Papunya Tula Artists community have enabled the local artists to develop their practice onto canvas using the inherent imagery of the land, body designs, and ceremony. Promoting themselves as a place of rich cultural and artistic development, Papunya Tula represents approximately 120 artists including Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri and Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula.

To the north-east is the region known as Utopia – a name first given by white settlers in 1927. In the 1980s they were introduced to canvas which enabled these female artists to create a distinctive style incorporating their previous batik designs with vibrant acrylic colours. The Ampilatwatja Artists Centre is one of the most known in the Utopia region, working with Abie Loy Kemarre, the Petyarre sisters and the iconic Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Arnhem Land
Further north near the coast is Arnhem Land, dominated by a vast terrain of rivers, jungles, mudflats and Australia’s heritage-listed rock art sites. With a natural palette of reds, yellows, whites, and blacks, sacred stories and ceremonies are depicted on eucalyptus bark (predominantly) featuring the Rainbow Serpent, the Wagalag Sisters and the Barama.

With several remote communities living in Arnhem land, Maningrida Arts, Ngukurr Arts and Bula’bula Arts centres have long represented renowned artists including Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Bardayal ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek, Phillip Gudthaykudthay and Paddy Fordham Wainburranga.

Torres Strait Islands
Influenced by decades of cultural affiliations with their neighbours in the surrounding Pacific region, the Torres Strait Islands form a region characterised by a diversity of art styles, unique to its mainland counterparts. With deep links to the coast and ocean, turtles, fish, dugongs, sharks, seabirds and crocodiles are all heavily featured in art from this region. Badu Art Centre and Erub Arts have long nurtured artists from these islands with the intention of promoting and preserving the unique aesthetic that this region brings to the Australian Indigenous art community. Dick Roughsey Goobalathaldin, Gloria Thancoupie and contemporary artist Destiny Deacon all hail from this region.

The Kimberley
The Kimberley region is situated on the western edge of the Tanami Desert in Central Western Australia. Its rock art is known around the world, especially that of the Wanjina. In the East Kimberley is the Warmun community, which pioneered a modern ochre painting using block colours often outlined by a single border of dots; a style that renowned artist Rover Thomas championed.

The Balgo community, in contrast to Warmun, painted with acrylics rather than the traditional ochres. Stemming from the 1980s, art centres including Warlayirti Artists which have been known to produce thick, bold and bright application of paint along with its unique stories.

The significance of art centres and artist communities cannot be overlooked when assessing Indigenous Art. These communities were established with the purpose of providing artists with a financially and culturally supportive space to develop their practice and produce work for an ethical market. The art market, too, favours artist communities as they provide a clear line of provenance whilst generally indicating that the purchase has been both correctly attributed and the artist has been recognised for their workmanship.

We are currently seeking entries for our Indigenous Art auction in February 2021. If you have a work or collection with arts centre provenance, please contact us.

LUCY FOSTER / Fine Art Specialist

November 2020