Held in and around Alice Springs, or Mparntwe as it is known to the local Arrernte people, Parrtjima is an annual nocturnal festival which features illuminated sculptures by Indigenous artists and ambitious outdoor lightshows.
During the ten days of the festival, a two-kilometre stretch of the MacDonnell Ranges is transformed into a massive canvas for animated light projections. Artistic director Rhoda Roberts, who is leading Parrtjima for the fourth time, explains that last year this grand lightshow was accompanied by an original music score that included Indigenous poetry spoken in language. “It was epic. Because Country is epic,” she says.
But, as Roberts explains, while Parrtjima may be spectacular, at its heart is sharing and communication. For her this starts first with “sitting side-by-side with the artists,” something visitors also have the chance to do through a program of workshops and conversations called Deep Listening. And artworks are also a vital tool for local artists with something to say.
Roberts works with local custodians of Dreaming stories, which she says are complex and have incredible depth. “The artists we work with in Parrtjima really opened their arms to us and want to tell the world their stories,” Roberts points out. “They want Australians to actually understand the symbols or what the story is about. Because if you can read the artwork you can then read Country. And if you can read Country you can make it sustainable again.”
In addition to talks, large-scale outdoor sculptures, and lightshows developed in collaboration with local artists, Parrtjima also features music, comedy and cabaret. The festival is designed to be both epic and entertaining. But, as Roberts says, “it is much more than people just coming and looking at pretty lights.”
Alice Springs Desert Park and Todd Mall
11 – 20 September
This article was originally published in the March/April 2020 print edition of Art Guide Australia.