A powerful tradition

Posted: 18 Dec 2012  |  By: Apolline Kohen

40th Anniversary of Papunya Tula Artists
Araluen Arts Centre
Alice Springs
17 November 2012–19 May 2013

Papunya Tula Artists, celebrating 40 years 1972-2012
Papunya Tula Artists Gallery
Alice Springs
16 November–22 December 2012

The Papunya Tula Art Movement began in 1971 when a school teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, encouraged some of the men to paint a mural for the local school. The murals triggered huge interest in the community and soon many men started painting. In November 1972, the artists successfully established their own company: Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, the first Aboriginal owned company, which represents today around 120 artists.

Two major exhibitions in Alice Springs celebrate the company’s forty years of existence and successes. The show at the Araluen Arts Centre, mounted in collaboration with Papunya Tula Artists, is a retrospective through the eyes of the Alice Springs community. Indeed, the paintings have been sourced and borrowed from the local community. This gives an interesting dimension to the exhibition as the show mainly consists of little gems that have been tucked away in people’s homes for many years. It is fascinating to see how it provides a sense of the interactions and relationships between the Alice Springs community and the art produced in its region.

Most locals have been collecting these works for emotional reasons, often because of their own relationships with artists and remote communities rather than for investment or with the aim of building an art collection. It is a unique opportunity to discover works, never exhibited or reproduced before, by artists that have been instrumental in the artistic development of the Papunya Tula art movement. This includes artists such as Johnny Warangkula Tjapaltjarri, Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi, Timmy Payungka Tjapangati, Makinti Napanangka and Naata Nungurrayi. It also features artists that may not have achieved the same level of international recognition but who have contributed to the stylistic evolutions of this art movement. The exhibition demonstrates how the art has shifted over the years, often dramatically from abstraction to expressionism to minimalism and back. On the other hand, the exhibition at the Papunya Tula gallery is showcasing recent major works produced by the company’s most prominent artists and rising stars. The artists are still as creative as ever and obviously enjoy continuing to push boundaries to be at the avant-garde of contemporary Aboriginal art. It is also important to remember that Papunya Tula has lead the way for the development of the arts centre movement, the establishment of good governance principles and practices for arts centres and the protection of artists’ rights and interests. This is another reason to celebrate the forty years of Papunya Tula Artists.

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Issue 38