Tarnanthi Festival 2019

Grounded in the same processes of deep listening that have allowed for the continuation and sharing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, knowledge and histories for millennia, ‘Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art’ is a festival that is true to its name. In the language of the Kaurna people, the traditional owners of the Adelaide Plains, ‘tarnanthi’ means to come forth or come to light. As such, ‘Tarnanthi’ spotlights the stories and histories of Australia’s First Nations people, and creates a space for intercultural exchange and for greater understandings of these complex cultures to be gained.

‘Tarnanthi’s’ Artistic Director Nici Cumpston, a Barkindji artist and curator, has co-designed the festival with its participating artists, curators and communities. As a result, ‘Tarnanthi’ presents over 1000 artists, from communities that span Australia, in a way that allows these works and stories to sit alongside one another and their individual nuances to be understood.

Bunha-Bunhanga, left: Unknown south-east Aboriginal artist, Digging stick, 1800s, Victoria, wood. Registered 1988, unknown source, Australian Museum, Sydney. Unknown south-east Aboriginal artist, Digging stick, 1800s, western Victoria, wood. Registered 1982. Donated by Mr Charles Melbourne Ward, Australian Museum, Sydney. Right: Eugene Von Guérard, Australia, 1811-1901, Early settlement of Thomas & William Lang. Salt Water River Port Phillip, N.S. Wales. March 1840, 1866-67, Melbourne, oil on canvas M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2016. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Photographs: Rebecca Fisher. Courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

‘Tarnanthi’ opens the weekend of Friday 18 October with the Tarnanthi Art Fair at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. Running for three days, Tarnanthi Art Fair features work from 50 arts centres, with 100% of sales proceeds going to the artists. In parallel, and until 27 January 2020, a major exhibition will run at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), alongside simultaneous exhibitions at 30 partner venues across Adelaide including: Arts Ceduna and AnanguKu Arts’ ‘No Black Seas’ at ACE Open, and ‘Sovereign Acts: in the Wake’, a retrospective of Unbound Collective’s Sovereign Acts series at the Adelaide Migration Museum.

AGSA will feature works such as Ryan Presley’s Blood Money (2010-ongoing), a series of large-scale paintings of Australian bank notes, which substitute portraits of colonial figures with significant Indigenous leaders, and the ‘Young Women’s Film Project’, in which Iwantja Arts artists Kaylene Whiskey and Vicki Cullinan bring together the women of Indulkana to produce video art that celebrates their APY Lands art centre.

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili, Yolngu people, Northern Territory, born c.1938, Baniyala, Northern Territory, Baratjala, 2019, Yirrkala, Northern Territory, earth pigments on stringybark Photograph: Rhett Hammerton. Courtesy the artist, Buku Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Northern Territory and Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

The gallery will also share the groundbreaking ‘Gurruṯu and Bunha-bunhanga: Aboriginal agriculture in the south-east’ projects. In the exhibition ‘Gurruṯu’, artists from the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka arts centre in north-east Arnhem Land, map out the intricacies of Yolŋu kinship, which tie Yolŋu to one another, to the land and all that it encompasses. Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka artists make use of found objects ranging from abandoned cars to discarded printer ink cartridges to explain their systems of connection to outsiders. Taking place across AGSA’s Elder Wing and the Adelaide Museum of Economic Botany, ‘Bunha-bunhanga: Aboriginal agriculture in the south-east’ has been curated by Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist and curator Jonathan Jones, in consultation with Bill Gammage and Bunurong, Yuin and Tasmanian Aboriginal man Bruce Pascoe. ‘Bunha-bunhanga’ challenges the dominant colonial narrative that prior to colonisation Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers. By exhibiting objects, tools and colonial paintings that showcase the complexity of Aboriginal agriculture and aquaculture pre-colonisation, this exhibition refutes terra nullius.

‘Tarnanthi’ is an unparalleled learning experience. Cumpston, through a dialogical approach, has worked alongside the artists in this year’s ‘Tarnanthi’ to create a festival that is rich with the culture and histories of Australia’s First Nations people. From ‘Tarnanthi’ we gain insight into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience, and learn the true histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life prior to European colonisation.

Anador Walsh is an emerging writer and curator, currently living and working in Naarm, Melbourne.

Art Gallery of South Australia
18 October, 2019 to 27 January, 2020