ERNABELLA ARTS : AUSTRALIA’S OLDEST INDIGENOUS ARTS CENTRE

‘Clay is dirt, clay is land, land is where we belong ‘

This is a large but relatively thin book, exquisitely illustrated. It tells the history of the land and the Indigenous people’s relationship with it and then the life of ceramic studio Ernabella Arts, which for many years has partnered amicably with the Jam Factory in South Australia. 

The book is linked with the Art Gallery of South Australia’s 2023 Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. A set of oral history recordings was undertaken as well by Hilary Furlong who was manager of Ernabella Arts from 2001 – 2007. Ernabella is considered Australia’s oldest Aboriginal Art Centre, established in 1948 and located in the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in the Aboriginal community of Pukatja (just before the SA/NT border).The book is presented throughout in both English and the traditional Aboriginal language (Pitjantjatjara) of the Anangu peoples.

We learn about the First Peoples relationship with clay, how it has been continued for millennia and used not ‘just‘ for ceramics but body painting and mourning.

The Forward is by Brian Parkes, CEO of The Jam Factory. This is followed by Twenty Years of Creating Ceramics by Anne Nginyangka Thompson with fabulous photos of the landscape of outback South Australia, especially around the Musgrave Ranges and the township of Pukata which was previously known as Ernabella, and some ceramic works. 

The Introduction by Caitlin Eyre places the Centre in context and looks at the encouragement and development of male ceramic artists (which until recently was considered most unusual). 

A history Timeline of this area of South Australia from the 19th Century to 2023 is included and annotates the influences on and development of the Centre. 

During the 1930s, the area became home to the Ernabella sheep station and homestead. Later that decade a mission was set up there by the Presbyterian Church, where a women’s craft room became established in 1948. At first textile items were produced, then paintings were added to their wares. Ernabella Arts became a separate entity in 1975 making it the longest indigenous arts and crafts organisation in Australia.

Through workshops, residencies in Australia and overseas, touring exhibitions and workshops the varieties of the work produced has expanded and now artists exhibit both in Australia and internationally. 

Several different art mediums are used, including painting, textiles, lino cuts and ceramics. We learn of the artist’s depiction of life on the land, their desert homes and perhaps their clan token (eg honey ants, witchety grubs) and how most of the works depict the landscape and Dreamtime stories. 

Also included is a Curriculum Vitae listing the various group and solo exhibitions and also the awards won by various artists and publications.

We learn how the Centre is extremely important in the community and how it is trying to attract more young people and continue into the future. Long may it last!

ttps://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/product.php?productid=1911&cat=0&page=&featured=Y

 

Publisher Wakefield Press

Format Hardback

Size 280 x 235 mm

ISBN 978192304117

Extent 128 pages

 

 

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