Podcast – Conversations with Curators: Nici Cumpston on relationships and conversations


“Each curator is unique like every artist is unique, I believe,” says Nici Cumpston, a leader in the Australian arts who holds the dual positions of Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia and Artistic Director of the annual TARNANTHI festival. Not to mention that Cumpston, a Barkindji woman of Afghan and European descent, is also an artist, educator and writer.

In this podcast, the second of four-part series exploring contemporary curating, Cumpston discusses how for her curating is a mixture of aesthetic, cultural, political and educative roles, at the centre of which lie relationships and conversation. “For me I need to have a good understanding of the artist’s work,” she says. “I need to build a relationship with the artist that I’m working with and I like to give them the opportunity to excel themselves.” In working with collections and artists, Cumpston has curated major shows including Desert Country, exhibited at AGSA in 2011 before touring the country, as well as co-curating the lauded survey show John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new, exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Cumpston’s career has recently culminated in TARNANTHI, an Adelaide-wide festival that provides a platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from across the country to embark on new works and share important stories. When Cumpston talks through the creation and importance of the festival she explains, “It’s about really breaking down stereotypes and really giving people an opportunity to learn directly from the artists themselves about their stories. With hundreds of different language groups across this country there are so many different ways of being and different creation stories, and we’re not just one nation – we’re many different people.”

In the podcast Cumpston also discusses her ‘pre-art’ life, how she found herself at the Art Gallery of South Australia, the larger aspirations behind her curating, and the changes she’s noticed in the arts as an Indigenous curator during the last decade.

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Podcast produced by Tiarney Miekus. Engineered by Mino Peric. Music by Jesse Warren.

Podcast Words by Tiarney Miekus