Desert Mob showcases Indigenous talent from remote communities

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Tradition and innovation are integral to Desert Mob, a festival that showcases Indigenous talent. It is clear that sharing stories is at the heart of the annual event which includes a symposium featuring presentations from artists and art centres, an art market and a dance site, and the Desert Mob exhibition which brings together remote communities from the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia to share their work, knowledge and techniques.

Rather than engaging in a pre-selection process, exhibiting artists and art centres in the Desert Mob exhibition have personally chosen over 250 works to offer a dynamic insight into new processes and modes of expression as well as honoured traditions passed down through generations.

The mediums of painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography and installation are all represented and spread across the space of three galleries.

This year Warakurna Artists and Tjanpi Desert Weavers have produced a collaborative project that communicates vital memories through painting and sculpture. “Desert Mob is a forum to display and promote the sacred tjurkurrpa and important stories, many still unwritten, from the artists of the Ngaanyatjarra lands,” says manager of Warakurna Artists, Jane Menzies. “Tjanpi and Warakurna Artists share a lot of the same artists. We wanted to work together to tell a bigger story, which this year is a selection of works in response to the theme of ‘Early Days’”.

3. Desert Mob 2015 exhibition opening
Opening night of Desert Mob 2015 exhibition. Photography Lisa Hatzimihail. Courtesy Araluen Arts Centre.

One of these works is a near life size contemporary fibre sculpture of an Indigenous family taking shelter around a campfire. Intricately constructed from locally collected grasses and woven fibres, the family sits together with their papas (camp dogs). In an artist statement accompanying the work, the women of Tjanpi Desert Weavers reveal that, “We decided to make this Early Days Family because how they slept, ate and kept warm is really important to us, and it’s important to show our children, grandchildren and other people how they lived, and to remember this time.”

A series of acrylic paintings from Tjarlirli Art Centre are also included in the Desert Mob exhibition. Representing artists from the small remote communities of Tjukurla and Docker River, manager of Tjarlirli Art Centre Hayley Birchley describes the innovative techniques and strong connections to family and storytelling evident in the selected works. “All of the pieces really highlight what is unique and special about Tjarlirli work, which is partly those close family ties to the founding senior men of the contemporary Aboriginal art movement in the early seventies,” Birchley says. “Each artist is telling their own story in their own way but they don’t feel a need to express the very precise, topographical birds-eye views of the landscape so common in desert art. They paint the same scene unrestrained by convention. It’s not the placement of landmarks but the process which is of paramount importance. The telling of the story.”

Celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Araluen Arts Centre last year, Desert Mob maintains a strong foothold as a standout annual gathering for remote desert art communities. It is not only a chance to see the breadth of contemporary Indigenous arts practice; it is also a vital opportunity to connect the past to the present, to keep traditions alive and to share with new generations.

Desert Mob 2016
Araluen Arts Centre
8 September – 23 October

Briony Downes