Aboriginal Artists: Defending the Defenders

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First published Wednesday 1 June in the Koori Mail

Aboriginal artists from the Central Desert to Arnhem Land have pitched in to save an environmental legal organisation which lost its public funding in 2014.

For the second year running the Environmental Defenders Office (NT) (‘EDONT’) is holding an Aboriginal art auction to raise the funds they need in order to survive.

The national network of the Environmental Defenders Offices was informed of its defunding by the Federal Government in December 2013 and received its last public funding at the end of the 2014 financial year. The EDONT currently has enough funds to last until approximately September this year.

In 2015, the EDONT held its first art auction and raised $62,000, which allowed them to continue operating for another 12 months. This year the EDONT hopes to raise $100,000.

The auction will consist of original artworks and prints from across the Top End. Many of the artists belong to Aboriginal communities that the EDONT has advocated for and represented.

The Ikuntji Artists art centre is situated at Haasts Bluff, 220km west of Alice Springs, in the middle of the West MacDonnell Ranges. For the second year running Ikuntji Artists have supported the EDONT Art Auction.

Alice Nampitjinpa Dixon painting. Photo by Dr. Chrischona Schmidt & Ikuntji Artists.

Dr Chrischona Schmidt, Ikuntji Artists’ Manager, said that while they had not needed any help from the EDONT yet, that did not mean their community would not need help in the future.

“What they do is really great, they help everybody across the Territory. When last year we heard that their funding was being cut we just thought we would help them because we want them to continue,” Dr Schmidt said.

“If we ever do need help we want to be able to go somewhere,” Dr Schmidt added.

Three Ikuntji Artists will contribute works to the auction this year: Alice Nampitjinpa Dixon, Patrick Nolan and Anmanari Napanangka Nolan.

Alice Nampitjinpa Dixon’s piece is called ‘Porcupine Tjukurrpa’. She has described her painting as depicting a porcupine on a fateful journey.

“The porcupine that travels through the country of Taalalpi scurrying over sandhills to reach the water-filled rockholes where it comes for its water and is cornered and captured by the local women who make a delicious meal from it.”

Emily McCulloch Childs is an art historian, curator and author of many books including ‘McCulloch’s Contemporary Aboriginal Art: The Complete Guide’ and ‘McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art’. She describes Alice Nampitjinpa Dixon as ‘emergently big’ and one of her favourite Ikuntji Artists.

“Alice is very impressive, she does beautiful line works, the Tali Tali, the sand hills of the Western Desert,” McCulloch Childs said.

“There is a nice mix of desert and Top End art and the exhibition has some of the most significant names in Aboriginal art.”

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According to David Morris, EDONT Principal Lawyer, there is a strong synergy between the work of the EDONT and the work of the Aboriginal artists whose paintings are in the auction.

“We provide free legal advice to help people protect country. Aboriginal artists tell stories that often demonstrate the importance of country to them, stories about the creation of country, understanding of country and the importance of country. All of these things are reflected in the art,” Morris said.

“Last year’s event was so successful, and we feel sure that this year it has gone to another level. It is becoming a really prestigious event. We have amazing works from significant artists such Timothy Cook, winner of the 2012 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, just to name one.”

“It’s exciting because we really feel that with the support we’ve got this is an event that can just go from strength to strength. We hope to create a sustainable event which benefits Artists, Art Centres, the EDO and, obviously by virtue of our ongoing service, the NT community generally.”

“The EDONT is totally self-reliant. We continue operating and having a positive community impact through fundraising and it speaks volumes that once again it has received incredible support from more than 15 art centres across the Northern Territory,” Morris concluded.

McCulloch Childs said that with so many famous artists it would be difficult to choose which one to bid on.

“It’s really tough, but if I had to choose, I would probably go for the Yathikpa by Nongirrna Marawili or the the Sugarbag Woman by Don Nakidilinj Namundja.”

The EDONT art auction launched at Outstation Art Gallery in Darwin on 7 May 2016. Participants are able to make bids at the ‘Galabid’ website on their personal devices. The auction will finish on 6 June 2016. On the final day, a live auction will also be held at Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers in Sydney.

All artists are paid consignment for their work.

More information can be found at www.ART4EDONT.com

Angus Smith is a board member of the EDONT.

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My full portfolio is available at www.angus-smith.com

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