Spinifex Arts Project – 20th Anniversary
Twenty years ago the Spinifex People of the Pitjantjatjara lands in the Great Victoria Desert near the border of Western Australia began an epic journey of recovery and restoration. Moved off their ancestral homelands by the disruption of the missile and nuclear tests of the 1950s, they had determined to relocate to the places and sites their forefathers knew.
Moving from mission settlements located outside the borders of their country back onto their homelands in the 1980s was the first step. Then in 1997 Spinifex Arts Project was established to map the connections between the people and their lands, to record and document their generational claim to the desert country. The culmination of their Native Title claim finally came with Federal Court ruling in 2000 and the Spinifex lands became the first Native Title granted in Western Australia. The original painted maps linking the lands and the birthplaces of the people were gifted to the Western Australian Museum.
Spinifex arts continued to have a major role to play in the community, to engender and celebrate the cultural heritage of the community, and to pass this on. “The paintings are in fact a statement not just of the artists’ knowledge and love of country, but of a determination to paint and articulate in a contemporary form the traditional ways, laws and paths which the next generation will follow and in turn come to hold.” (1)
The work of Spinifex artists gives a powerful sense of the custodial links between the people and the mythological sites on their country. The strength of colour and the complex structures of the artworks brings us into the world of these traditional desert owners. A large 2.9 metre collaborative men’s painting shows the schematic structure the people hold of their Country and all its connections.
Arts Co-ordinator Amanda Dent has been working with the community for the past 5 years. She describes the approach of the artists – “When artists are painting that, they’re drawing on the Creation stories, the law, the religion. This spirituality is part of everyday life for remote desert people. Many Western people can experience religion where the secular and the religious can be quite separate ways of being in the world. For Anangu people it’s all one. The religious isn’t put up on a pedestal, it’s not a high and mighty thing. It’s part of the mundane, it’s part of everything.
That’s how Anangu people see the world, so when they are painting they are drawing back to those roots of where they’re born. The artists don’t plan the work out, they sit down and start painting their country and their thinking. They’re in the zone. It’s almost like a meditation because they go back to that place, they’re in country, they’re painting those rock holes, and they’re thinking about those stories and the Creation Beings.”
This beautiful exhibition of desert paintings is on show at Japingka Gallery from 10 November to 20 December 2017. Artists Ngalpingka Simms, Kanta Donnegan and Tjaruwa Woods will attend the opening along with art coordinators Amanda Dent and Brian Hallett. The exhibition is presented in association with Spinifex Arts Project.