Clay Stories: Contemporary Indigenous Ceramics from Remote Australia
When Judith Pungkarta Inkamala was a child she would watch Albert Namatjira paint his iconic landscapes. As her own practice began to develop, Inkamala started to tell the story of Namatjira’s influence on her work. Indeed, in one of her most recent ceramic pots, poignantly titled Albert Namatjira, the entire pot surface is covered in images of Namatjira’s canvasses, as well as the landscape he painted within. Now, Albert Namatjira is currently on display as part of the regional touring exhibition Clay Stories: Contemporary Indigenous Ceramics from Remote Australia.
Presented by Sabbia Gallery and the Remote Communities Ceramic Network, Clay Stories brings together ceramics from 22 emerging and established Indigenous artists who work from remote Australia. Currently showing at its second destination, Araluen Arts Centre, the exhibition is a collaboration between five arts centres throughout regional Australia. These include Erub Arts in the Torres Strait, Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre in North Queensland, Ernabella Arts in the APY Lands, Hermannsburg Potters in the Central Desert and Tiwi Design on Bathurst Island.
Clay Stories is the first exhibition of its kind, and one of its aims is to prompt greater opportunities for remote Indigenous ceramicists.
As Anna Grigson, director of Sabbia Gallery, explains, “The idea of the exhibition is to bring focus and attention to the innovating work that’s being made, but also to allow opportunities for both the people and work that’s created in remote parts of Australia.”
While the show encompasses a variety of materials and stories, the individual works each speak of an artist’s connection to country. In this way some pieces depict the immediate environment, whereas other ceramics and vessels focus on ancestral stories. “I suppose what’s more traditional about what’s being made is not necessarily the medium, but the stories and the mark-making that’s happening on those surfaces,” says Grigson.
Yet the ways in which these stories are evoked differ greatly between artists and the areas they work within. “Derek Thompson, from Ernabella, he has a very strong imagery with his pieces,” explains Grigson. “He often works with images of the Wanampi, the snake [rainbow serpent], or the Mako Mako, which are the witchetty grubs. His are very literal pieces and he’ll often use that imagery of the snake and the Mako Mako.”
Finally, Clay Stories speaks of collaboration and exchange between both the art centres and the artists themselves. Just as Namatjira once inspired Inkamala’s artistic pursuits, now Inkamala is focussed on mentoring younger artists. As Grigson sums up, “Throughout the show there’s this handing back to the younger generations which is really important for Indigenous communities.”