Brand new world-class Aboriginal art festival announced in South Australia

The festival aims to make South Australia the international portal for Aboriginal visual art.

Entitled “Tarnanthi” (pronounced TAR-NAN-DEE), a local Kaurna word meaning ‘to come forth’, South Australia’s new high-end Aboriginal visual arts festival is scheduled to launch in October 2015. 

Tarnanthi Logo. Image courtesy the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Tarnanthi Logo. Image courtesy the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Premier Jay Weatherill announced last year that a new Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island visual arts festival will be held in 2015, supported by the State Government, the Art Gallery of South Australia and a AUD4 million (USD3.75 million) investment from principal sponsor BHP Billiton.

It was announced on 22 July 2014 that the festival will be known as “Tarnanthi“, which means to come forth, as in the sun and the first emergence of light, or of a seed sprouting. The event will be held in Adelaide in October 2015, led by curator and artist Nici Cumpston. Premier Weatherill also revealed that ‎Carclew Aboriginal arts development manager Lee-Ann Buckskin and former commissioner for Aboriginal engagement Klynton Wanganeen would co-chair the festival’s advisory committee.

Aboriginal art and South Australia

Announcing the event, Premier Weatherill said:

We have an ambitious goal of making South Australia the international portal for Aboriginal visual art […] Tarnanthi will showcase contemporary works of art created by artists from the oldest continuous living culture on earth. The festival will include a series of exhibitions, artist workshops, a symposium and an art fair.

This builds on his announcement from last year, when he said that:

South Australia was a leader in the appreciation of Aboriginal art – we were the first to display work by an Aboriginal artist in a state art collection when in 1939 we acquired a work by Albert Namatjira. The South Australian Museum houses the biggest Aboriginal anthropological artefact collection. We want to strengthen our leadership in the appreciation of Aboriginal art by hosting a world-class festival.

Christian Thompson, 'Black Gum 2', 2008, Type C photograph on paper, ed. 7/10, 108 x 110 cm; 100 x 100 cm (comp.). Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery.

Christian Thompson, ‘Black Gum 2′, 2008, Type C photograph on paper, ed. 7/10, 108 x 110 cm; 100 x 100 cm (comp.). Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery.

A high-end, one-of-a-kind festival

Appointed to head the festival is the winner of this year’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Award and the Art Gallery’s first Aboriginal curator, Nici Cumpston. The Art Gallery will partner with cultural institutions across Adelaide to present the Festival, which will feature satellite exhibitions to ensure broad community engagement. In addition, respected Aboriginal community members with expertise in arts and community engagement across the entire country will provide advice to Taranthi.

Co-chairs Buckskin and Wanganeen revealed:

[The festival] will showcase the best work being created by highly respected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from across the nation. It will challenge perceptions of what Aboriginal art is, and remind us all that this is a living culture with an art practice that is celebrated internationally.

The ambitious festival also hopes to boost the status of Aboriginal art as a high-end industry, and in doing so, directly benefit Aboriginal communities. Premier Weatherill said last year that:

Art is a significant contributor to the economy of Aboriginal communities […] We want to strengthen the future of Aboriginal artwork in high-end arts.

Aboriginal art trends

This ambitious new venture comes at a time when many proclaim the future of Aboriginal art to be bleak, stifled by a state-supported Aboriginal culture system tailored for a Western audience.

As reports, after hitting a high of AUD26 million (USD24.4 million) in 2007, turnover in Indigenous Australian art plummeted half a year later to around AUD8 million (USD7.5 million) annually. With the collapse of the private-sector market, a new kind of state culture network replaced it, as The Australian revealed last year. The article comments that although such new state initiatives are well-funded and shielded from the pressures of the marketplace, resulting art-making trends are controlled and sanctioned:

Trends in Aboriginal art-making are increasingly shaped by state galleries and public collections, and by the culture bureaucrats who guide them; artworks are supported by government-backed programs, made in approved and sanctioned studios, then bought with public funds.

Although such cultural production and consumption aims to save and preserve Aboriginal culture, many wonder if such aims are mainstream aims more than indigenous aims. As The Australian reports:

Far more people live off Aboriginal arts administration than off indigenous art-making today, and it has grown into a multiplicit business.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Australian artists, promoting art, festivals, events in Australia

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