Ian Plunkett describes Japingka Gallery's long and proud association with Spinifex Arts Project. He shares the story of the excitement in the gallery as the new Spinifex works were unpacked.
Meeting Spinifex Arts Project For The First Time
We work with a lot of Indigenous owned and run art centres and we've always had a close affinity with the Spinifex Arts Project. We first came in contact with them around the time of the Sydney Olympics, twenty years ago. They had an exhibition just after the Olympics finished, and so I got to meet the then coordinators who were Peter and Louise Twigg. They worked with Spinifex for 12 years, a long time in a remote community.
Spinifex Native Title Victory
We got to know the artists well after we approached the community about having an exhibition here at Japingka because they had strong ties with WA. They were the first group to actually be granted native title. The whole reason for painting in the beginning was so they could document their lands to make a land rights claim to the Federal Government. They were the first group in Western Australia to ever be granted native title because it was clear that their links were inalienable and indisputable, once people heard the story and saw the paintings. It was a major change really for the whole community that they now have custodianship of their land recognized in the law.
The Power of Paintings As Maps
As a mark of respect they gave and gifted many of those paintings to the WA Museum and they're part of the permanent collection. Those stunning major paintings are mostly collaborative works, where each elder painted the part of the painting for which they are the recognized custodian. Those works are really maps. That process really set the trend for the whole community because their paintings have always had a power, an integrity and an authority that you don't often get with a lot of other artworks. This is particularly true of works that are painted for a market. Yes they tell a story, but they're geared more towards communicating to a consumer market.
Integrity and Authority of Spinifex Arts Project
The Spinifex Arts Project have always been widely respected throughout the country, and overseas too. They are known for their integrity and for the authority in their paintings because they're not painting for the market. They're painting to tell a story and to reaffirm their ties and traditions with the land that they live on.
Strong, Powerful and Joyful Art
As a community they've had a really traumatic time. They were kicked off the lands because it was claimed for the Maralinga tests of nuclear weapons. That was really traumatic in the 1950s. They have bounced back, been grated custodianship of the land and started bringing it back to life again. All that's celebrated in their paintings and you can see it and feel it. Yes, they're powerful. Yes, they are strong, but they're also joyful.
It's that understanding of the ties between the Spinifex people and their country and the other stories. There are also story links that go right across the country, like the Seven Sisters Dreaming story which is a big element of what they paint.
Committed Coordinators at Spinifex
It's been our privilege and our honour to represent Spinifex Artists for so many years. They've only had two sets of coordinators in those 18 plus years. At the moment, they've got Amanda Dent and Brian Hallett out there who are doing a brilliant job. They'd lived under the most trying conditions because until recently, they didn't even have a house to live in out there. They were living in really what was a container. They were so committed to what was happening there and the stories that the artists are trying to tell. They never thought about leaving and they're still there. Their artists are celebrated and acclaimed all around the world now.
The Only Major Exhibition of 2020
2020 is a big year for Spinifex artists because all the other exhibitions were cancelled. There was nothing else happening. That gave them the time to focus on doing a major exhibition for us. We're really privileged because it fills both galleries with a really strong depth of quality that you don't normally expect over such a large show. The depth is amazing.
Christmas Came Early at Japingka Gallery
We're just so happy. When these paintings arrived, David and I were unrolling them, we were just blown away. It was one masterpiece after another, and it just lifted our spirits for the whole week after seeing those and unwrapping them. I mean, it's better than Christmas. It really is. I still feel that way. Spinifex is still one of my favourite art centres. They still give me a lift. You walk up into that gallery space and your heart can't help but be lifted. It really does hit you right here in your heart. They're joyful but powerful and authentic and you don't always get that.