Established in 1948, Ernabella Arts is Australia’s oldest Indigenous art centre. Ernabella Arts is located in Pukatja community at the eastern end of the Musgrave Ranges in far north-west South Australia.
Pukatja is the oldest permanent settlement on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. The first works were hand loomed rugs produced in the craft room of the mission opened in 1937. Since then, the ‘Craft Room’ has taken on many mediums to evolve into a culturally strong centre of contemporary art making.
Sabbia Gallery is thrilled to present this very important exhibition showing some of Ernabella’s finest artists in Tjungu Warkarintja, Fifteen Years (Working Together, Fifteen Years). This unique exhibition will present new work in ceramics and batiks from a select group of award winning Ernabella artists. These works have been created on Country in Ernabella Australia and during their residency in Jingdezhen, China in 2013. The exhibition runs from 5 to 29 March 2014 in conjunction with Art Month Sydney.
Ernabella Arts Ceramic Studio, or Pukatja Pottery as it has become known, was established in 2003. The first exhibition of pottery from Ernabella was work made in Adelaide at the JamFactory in 1998, and the exhibition was titled Tjungu Warkarintja: Working Together. With no art school or tertiary education options in community, the Ernabella artists here have learnt to work in ceramics through working together with other people – residencies and exchanges with the JamFactory in the beginning, and with the ANU’s School of Art since 2006.
This exhibition stands as a marker of fifteen years of working together. The Big Pot workshop in Jingdezhen came about through the ANU Ceramic Workshop’s support of Ernabella Arts and through an Australia Council New Work Grant. In May 2013, Tjimpuna Williams and Derek Thompson travelled with mentor Janet DeBoos to Jingdezhen, international home of porcelain, to undertake a New Work residency. In her time, Tjimpuna’s mother was an accomplished batik artist and integral part of Ernabella Arts, who travelled to Indonesia and Japan with her artwork.
Ernabella Arts celebrated 65 years in 2013, and many important relationships have formed over those years between the arts centre and other internationally recognised artists and institutions.
Ernabella Arts has an informal exchange program where once or twice a year, ANU staff and students have done volunteer skills and development workshops here, and then two or three artists from Ernabella travel back to Canberra with them, and do further skills development at the School of Art. Ngunytjima Carroll and Derek Thompson undertook such a residency in 2012, during which Ngunytjima developed his throwing of large forms, under the mentorship of Greg Daly and Lucas Boswell. Ngunytjima has continued his throwing since, and a work thrown by Ngunytjima and marked by Derek was Highly Commended in the 2013 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards ie the Telstras, the most prestigious Indigenous annual art award in Australia. The work, Wanampi, was collected by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
There is a Pitjantjatjara term, Milpatjunanyi, which refers to story telling using drawings in the sand. The story teller and audience are usually sitting down, often around a fire, and the narrator has a stick with which they draw. When a part of the story is told and it’s time for the next part, the stick is used to wipe the story clean like a window wiper or the turning of a page. The Ernabella artists here have always worked in a sgrafitto technique, which relates directly to the ancient story telling tradition of Milpatjunanyi. This way still exists across the APY Lands and it is an everyday occurrence to see children sitting in a circle, telling each other stories in the sand.
‘Our stories are from a long time ago and they will live in the future with our children. When they grow up they will be working at the art centre. They will be the owners of our art centre and will keep our culture strong.’ Milyika Carroll
In conjunction with Art Month Sydney (1 – 23 March 2014) please join Sabbia Gallery’s directors Anna Grigson and Maria Grimaldi on Saturday 8 March from 2.00 to 4.00pm for two wonderful events as part of the Tjungu Warkarintja, Fifteen Years Ernabella ceramics exhibition. Janet DeBoos has been visiting Ernabella, working as a volunteer at the art centre. She will be giving an artist talk and will be speaking about the exhibition, Ernabella Arts and the experience of working together. As well as Janet’s speech, four of Ernabella’s award winning artists; Ngunytjima Carroll, Carlene Thompson, Derek Thompson and Tjimpuna Williams will be at Sabbia Gallery demonstrating their unique and beautiful sgraffito technique of carving on ceramics.