Koskela Travels to Tarnanthi: An Annual Celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

This past month I was lucky enough to travel to Kaurna country and attend my first ever Tarnanthi. Meaning, to emerge from, Tarnanthi is more than just a name, it represents the strength and ongoing resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture. Hosted annually by the Art Gallery of South Australia, The Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art is a celebration of First Nations Peoples from across the continent and the artistic and cultural diversity shared among them. 

First thing Friday morning, we hopped off the plane and headed straight to the place of the red kangaroo, Tarndanyangga, the land you might now know as the Adelaide CBD. From here we attended one of the Panpa-Panpalya gatherings facilitated by Weirdi man Bruce McLean (Curator of Indigenous Australian Art, QLD Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art). For me, the highlight of the panel was Robert Fielding. The Mimili Maku artist spoke passionately about his vision for Indigenous art and the purpose behind his exhibit, Mutaka. Mutaka redefines the way we think and perceive Indigenous art by taking abandoned cars and giving them a new story. After a quick bite to eat we wandered through the entire gallery and saw everything from bark paintings and fibre works to comic books and animations. For our final event of the day, we headed to the opening of the Tarnanthi Art Fair and I have never seen anything quite like it. With roughly 50 participating art centres, the market hall was packed to the rafters with people and paintings at every corner. Amongst the crowds I was able to meet with a few of our art centre partners and even picked up a pair of fibre earrings for myself! 

The next day we attended the opening at Nthspace Gallery, visited the APY Gallery and checked out the exhibitions at the JamFactory all before lunch! One of the standouts for me was Ernabella Arts’ first ever ceramic jewellery collection: Wanapari- in a line, following one another. Then in the afternoon it was time for our Ngalya opening at the SASA Gallery. For Ngalya we collaborated with six art centres from across the country to translate traditional and contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander weaving practices into the creation of handmade light shades. For the opening, we were fortunate to have Pro Vice Chancellor of Aboriginal Leadership and Strategy and Professor of Law, Irene Watson perform a welcome to country and hear a few words from Faye Matjarra Garrawurra, Director and interpreter at Bula’Bula Arts and Aunty Ellen from Ngarrindjeri Cultural Weavers. As always, it was a great privilege and honour for me to hear about the experiences of other Indigenous women and learn about how they share their stories through art. 

Our last day at Tarnanthi began with scooter ride and weaving session with the Ngarrindjeri Cultural Weavers. I first met Aunty Ellen, Aunty Noreen and Bessie at our Sydney opening of Ngalya (which also happened to be my first day on the job). After weaving, I checked out their sculpture in the South Australian Museum- Kondoli: the Keeper of Fire. The sculpture is a HUGE woven whale, made completely out of rushes. Then we headed back to the gallery to watch the Tiwi Ceremony. We did more than just watch, at the end we were invited to join in and dance alongside the Pukamani ceremonial poles. The Tiwi mob were so welcoming and it was great to see people of all ages and backgrounds get involved in the dance.

So, to sum it all up, I thoroughly enjoyed my first Tarnanthi Festival and feel very lucky and proud to be a part of this culture.

Written by Zoe Sims, Social Impact Coordinator and Wiradjuri Woman.