28th June – 11 August, 2006
Papunya Tula Artists will this month exhibit 20 exceptional works at the Hamiltons Gallery, London, UK to raise much needed funds for the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (Western Desert Dialysis Appeal) who in partnership the the Pintupi Homelands service operates the remote renal dialysis facilites at Kintore and in Alice Springs.
With the help of Sotheby’s, Hamiltons Gallery and supporters of the Western Desert art movement, Papunya Tula Artists will be able to channel funds generated through this exhibition directly back to the community. These funds will ensure the continued delivery of this important service, which has undoubtedly improved the quality of life of not only the patients, but also their families.
This exhibition would not have been possible without the contribution of Tim Klingender, Head of Aboriginal Art, Sotheby’s Australia and Tim Jefferies of Hamiltons Gallery London.
PINTUPI – an introduction
Sometimes, on rare, precious occasions, the smooth-flowing stream of art breaks its banks, and spills into new country. This exhibition marks just such a moment, when the vast horizon of Australian art is becoming visible at last in the wider world. These 20 paintings are not merely works of stature from our continent’s arid Centre, that realm of red sand-hills, ancient, half-eroded ranges and dazzling salt-lakes; they are themselves little fragments of the desert, its way of being, its way of seeing and being seen. Look closely, and you will glimpse in them not just the expanse of distance and the sweep of time, but other things as well: the fine sand-grains embedded in the paint surface, maybe, or the rough hairs of stray camp-dogs that went ambling by a wet canvas on the Kintore painting house verandah.
Work of this kind, operating across a profound cultural barrier, imposes certain responsibilities upon the viewer’s imagination. How to think oneself into an Aboriginal space, or meet the desert artists half-way, when their vocabulary is so austerely self-concealing, and their marks imply, from so little, so much? Whole worlds of mythology are laid out in these canvases; wide tracts of country too, from Lake Mackay, scene of elaborate, apocalyptic dramas at the dawn of human time, to the distant, near-secret, never-failing rockhole of Karilwara, where the red hawks of the inland fly.
Desert work of this stature has not been exhibited anywhere outside Australia for 15 years. In that time, the painting movement initiated by senior Pintupi men in the early 1970s has developed at rapid pace, and pushed down new pathways, even as the societies of the desert feel with ever greater force the pressures brought to bear upon them by outside civilization. The artistic progression falls into clear phases: first came small, jewel-like boards patterned with ceremonial designs; these gave way to heavily dotted paintings, works with an emphasis on the recording of desert landscape, and the depiction of travels by ancestral beings; then, with the emergence of women painters, a looser, more tranquil art was born: transcribed moods, rather than coded emblems of power. And around the turn of the millenium, a fresh style, which critics have labeled “minimalist” came to the fore. It may look somewhat like western minimalism: in truth it is anything but.
This new desert work is a very conscious form of art: it is made both to disclose and to conceal, and it is made on the membrane between cultures. These canvases can be appreciated down many avenues: they are instinct with the look and feel of desert country; they are records of events in the creative past, and of the deep emotions brought to life by those events. They are emblems of a specific culture, yet they speak strongly of the sensibilities of individual artists.
We in Australia have been looking at art from this movement for a generation now, and it has changed the way we see our continent. We see the deserts less as emptiness, and more as repositories of an abrupt renaissance – a gift given to us and to the wider world. We regard the artists with a deep and puzzled affection; and it is hard for us not to see another, more sombre cycle being traced out in the sand. These paintings first sprang from a tradition of ritual; their precursors were sketched in the red dirt, or on sacred wooden boards, or upon the hidden walls of obscure caves. They were first painted for the eyes of white men, and displayed in public, at a time when the nomadic life patterns of desert people had been gravely disrupted by contact with western society, by changed diet and settlement in cramped conditions. The present pandemic of kidney disease is a delayed consequence of this shift in life-style. And so it is that admiration for Aboriginal art is mounting even as a medical plague decimates the people of the western desert. In disquieting fashion, beauty has risen from disaster, and now ministers to disease.
View from Papunya Tula
Six years ago, with the help of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) and Sotheby’s, a charity auction was held in Sydney to raise money for a remote renal dialysis facility. This facility was to be built 500 km west of Alice Springs on the Aboriginal community of Kintore, home of many of Papunya Tula’s greatest artists. At the time, people suffering kidney failure were forced to relocate east to Alice Springs to receive treatment. This meant the permanent displacement of whole families, and in many cases, those receiving treatment were never to see their homelands again.
On 11 November 2000, at the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal in the foyer of the AGNSW, approximately $1.1 million was pledged. The atmosphere in the room that night and the enormous amount of goodwill being shown were both rare and extraordinary. A total of thirty-five paintings were generously donated by private collectors, commercial galleries and Papunya Tula Artists. The collective dream was not only to establish the first privately funded renal dialysis unit, but to do this in the Gibson Desert, the heartland of the Pintupi people and Papunya Tula Artists.
Through the hard work of the original committee, and more recently of those on the staff of the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, this dream was realised in September 2004. On this day full haemodialysis was being delivered on one of the most remote communities in Australia. From a patient list that originally numbered seven, the service now treats a total of thirty-one, a clear indication of the severity of the problem and the disproportional rate of kidney disease among Aboriginal Australians.
The expense of delivering and maintaining this service is of course considerable, but it is vital that it continues. The current level of assistance being offered by the government has been insufficient to cover the overall running costs, so the project is still dependant on additional funds made available through the private sector. Indeed Papunya Tula Artists donated a further $100,000 in March this year in order to pay the wages of those employed by the project.
Again, with the help of Sotheby’s, Hamiltons Gallery and supporters of the Western Desert art movement, Papunya Tula Artists will be able to channel funds generated through this exhibition directly back to the community. These funds will ensure the continued delivery of this important service, which has undoubtedly improved the quality of life of not only the patients, but also their families.
On behalf of Papunya Tula Artists and the people of the Western Desert, I would like to thank those who have donated, purchased or been involved in any way with the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal or the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation.