15 Excellent Indigenous Art Centres To Support And Celebrate!
Some of the best and most important artwork in the country is being produced at art centres in Indigenous communities. Predominantly located in remote and semi-remote communities across Northern Territory, Northern Queensland, far north South Australia and Western Australia, art centres are hubs where artists young and old work alongside each other, sharing stories and transferring vital cultural knowledge. They are spaces for meeting, conversation, education, employment, economy and celebration!
We are so lucky to have this knowledge of Country and culture preserved by First Nations artists, and supporting art centres is a great way to respect this. But if you’re not sure what to look for, it can be a little overwhelming to know where to start.
For this article, we spoke to 15 different art centres and artists to learn more about their diverse practices, as well as representatives from the upcoming Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) and the Indigenous Art Code (IartC), who share their knowledge on things to consider to ensure an ethical transaction.
Buckle up – this is a long one, but for good reason!
Peter Mungkuri and Alec Baker with their collaborative painting ‘Nganampa Ngura (Our Country)’ (2020) Photo – Meg Hansen, Courtesy of Iwantja Arts.
16th of July 2021
It’s important to know that Aboriginal artists and art centres are not all one homogenous group – each have their own style, stories, methods, materials and traditions that are unique to their Country and culture, that often cannot be practiced elsewhere. Through the artwork produced in community art centres there is so much to be learned about the spirit, culture and history of our country’s First Nations people.
There are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing artwork by Indigenous artists. Supporting art centres that are Aboriginal owned, operated and governed means that economic autonomy remains within the community. I asked Shilo McNamee, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) Foundation’s artistic director, why this is important.
‘Art centres are the beating heart of Indigenous communities. Supporting art centres ensures that Australia’s Indigenous art sector continues to flourish and excel’, she says. ‘The economic independence of communities helps ensure that people can continue to live on their homelands, resulting in the preservation of traditional practices, ceremonies, language, art and spirituality.’
Another important thing to look out for is that the art centre (or anywhere you are purchasing Aboriginal artwork from!) is a signatory of the Indigenous Art Code (IartC). This is a code of conduct (the Code) that art dealers, art centres and galleries can join to demonstrate their commitment to fair and ethical dealings when working with Indigenous artists. When art centres become signatories of the IartC, they are considered Dealer Members. ‘These businesses are committed to the fair and ethical trade with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and transparency in the promotion or sale of artwork’, says Gabrielle Sullivan, CEO of the Indigenous Art Code. ‘Dealer Memberships signifies a commitment to act fairly, honestly, professionally and in good conscience in all direct or indirect dealings with artists.’ Members of the IartC will generally display a logo on their website. You can read more about the IartC’s recommendations for buying ethically here.
As far as what percentage of an artwork purchase goes directly back to the artists, DAAF’s executive director Claire Summers notes an industry standard as a guideline. ‘Art centres have systems in place to ensure artists are paid ethically. It is an industry standard for artists to receive 60 per cent of the sale price, with 40 per cent returning to the Art Centres, to continue their important work in the community’, she says.
You should also expect to receive a Certificate of Authenticity (CoA) with artwork purchases over $250.
Now you’re equipped with the information to make an ethical purchase from an art centre – WHERE TO START? Many art centres have great websites and Instagram pages where you can learn more about the artists, their Country and their practice, and shop their artwork online. The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair – who return 100% of all sales directly to the participating artists and art centres – has recently announced they will be going online this year from August 6th – 11th (check out their list of all 75 participating art centres and register for early access here). The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (running August 17th – 22nd) has a list of their participating art centres on their website, as does the Tarnanthi Festival (whose Art Fair will run October 15th – 17th) in South Australia here.
To get you going, we’ve put together a list of 15 art centres that are Aboriginal owned and operated, signatories of the Indigenous Art Code, and showcase a diverse range of the incredible work being produced by artists of the world’s oldest living culture.
Please note this is by no means an exhaustive list – according to the IartC, there are over 60 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander-owned art centres who are members of the IartC! This is a place to start – we encourage you to keep looking, learning, supporting and celebrating!
Left: Betty Muffler with her painting ‘Ngangkari Ngura’ (2020). Right: Eric Barney with his painting ‘Ngura (Country)’ (2020). Photo – Meg Hansen, Courtesy of Iwantja Arts.
Tiger Yaltangki with his painting ‘Self Portrait’ (2020). Photo – Meg Hansen, Courtesy of Iwantja Arts.
Iwantja Arts is located in the rocky, desert country of Indulkana Community on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in the remote north-west of South Australia. Founded in the 1980s by respected Anangu artists and community leaders Alec Baker and Sadie Singer, Iwantja Arts now supports the artistic careers of over 40 predominantly Yankunytjatjara artist members, providing access to artistic and professional development.
Many renowned artists have been nurtured and supported at Iwantja Arts, including Sulman Prize-winning Kaylene Whiskey and Vincent Namatjira, who became the first Aboriginal artist to win the Archibald Prize in 2020.
Artist Vicki Cullinan says, ‘The Iwantja art centre is the most important place in our community. It’s a place where everyone comes together, young and old. It’s really special. Families are working together. A lot of times people are singing inma (cultural songs) while they work. Iwantja Arts is a place where people can work to make money for their families. Everyone needs a job and working as artists means that we are also keeping our culture strong and passing on important knowledge to the next generations.’
Left: ‘Iwantja Tjukitji (Iwantja Soakage)’ by Julie Yatjitja of Iwantja Arts. Right: Leah Brady, at the APY Studio in Adelaide.
Left: Nyunmiti Burton in front of her painting at APY Gallery Adelaide. Right: ‘Kapi Tjukula’ by Yaritji Heffernan.
‘Wanampi Tjukurpa’ by Kukika Adamson.
Artwork by Sharon Adamson of Tjala Arts.
The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjar (APY) Centre Collective is a group of 11 Indigenous owned and governed enterprises. The APY Galleries in Adelaide and Sydney are run by APY Art Centre Collective, creating a platform to exhibit and celebrate the work of young and emerging APY Artists.
The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (APY Lands) are located in remote Central Australia. The galleries represents the work of seven art centres – Mimili Maku Arts, Tjungu Palya, Ninuku Arts, Tjala Arts, Iwantja Arts, Kaltjiti Arts, and the Tjanpi Desert Weavers – facilitating sales and marketing the work of over 500 Indigenous artists. APY Art Centres are powerful places, and vital to the community.
The APY Galleries showcases artists working across a wide range of mediums from painting, traditional punu (wood) carving, weaving, textiles, new media and digital photography. These emerging young artists have watched, listened and learned from their grandparents, the senior men and women of the APY Lands.
Epic woven hat by Doreen Djorlom of Marrawuddi Art Centre. Photo – courtesy of Marrawuddi Art Centre.
Weaving by Melba Gunjarrwanga of Marrawuddi Art Centre. Photo – Marrawuddi Art Centre.
Amy Namarnyilk and her partner Rodney, with Amy’s incredible weavings! All hand woven with pandanus, which have been collected and dyed with natural dyes. Photo – courtesy of Marrawuddi Art Centre.
Patsy Kelly and her sensational Marebu! Photo – courtesy of Marrawuddi Art Centre.
Painting by Robert Namarnyilk of Marrawuddi Art Centre.
Marrawuddi Arts Centre
Marrawuddi Arts & Culture is located in the heart of the Kakadu National Park and works with over 400 artists from the Kakadu and West Arnhem region. Marrawuddi is a vibrant community hub providing working space for artists, stunning artworks for tourists to view and purchase and excellent coffee for everyone. Recently relocated to a stunningly renovated space right in the town of Jabiru, Marrawuddi is the first business to secure a lease under the post-mining plans for of Jabiru. The town was handed back to the Mirarr traditional owners in June 2021 as part of the long-awaited transition away from imposed uranium mining.
Artists at Marrawuddi practice painting methods that draw on traditions used for thousands of years. Using manyilk (sedge grass) and ochre, artists create patterns called rarrk, commonly known as cross hatching. Contemporary art methods such as screen printing and fine art painting are also practiced here, and the daluk (women) of Kakadu and West Arnhem also create incredible pandanus fibre art. Alycia Marrday of Marrawuddi Arts & Culture is a finalist in the Handcrafted category of the 2021 TDF Design Awards!
Marrawuddi is owned and controlled by the Mirarr clan through their representative organisation the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC).
Mirrar Traditional Owner Simon Mudjandi said at the opening of Marrawuddi’s bright new location in 2020, ‘Today is the start of a new and exciting chapter for Jabiru and Kakadu. With the opening of the new Marrawuddi Arts Centre, Jabiru’s transition from mining town to an Aboriginal owned community centre and tourism hub really begins.’
Artwork by Gwenneth Blitner of Ngukurr Arts. Image – courtesy of Ngurkurr Arts.
Gwenneth Blitner at work! Photo – courtesy of Ngukurr Arts.
‘Crayfish’ by Wally Wilfred Ḏakawa of Ngukurr Arts. Image – courtesy of Ngurkurr Arts.
‘Station Life’ by Jill Daniels of Ngukurr Arts. Image – courtesy of Ngurkurr Arts.
Ngukurr Art Centre is positioned by the banks of Roper River, at the south-eastern most cusp of Arnhem Land. The Art Centre, much like Ngukurr (which means ‘place of many stories’), is abundant with diverse histories, traditions and stories – bringing together many different clans and language groups. The community is home to Ngalakgan, Alawa, Mangarrayi, Ngandi, Marra, Warndarrang, Nunggubuyu, Ritharrngu-Wägilak and Rembarrnga, known collectively as Yugul Mangi (meaning ‘all of us together’). Here, the artists draw from personal history, cultural memory, Ancestral knowledge, ceremonial responsibilities and varied artistic influences, experimenting with colour, form and representation.
‘Melabat plenti langgus mob bat melabat bin migim wan pipurl. Dismob ting migim melabat strongbala,’ says senior culture man 78-year-old Walter Kolbong Rogers. Translating from Roper Kriol he says: ‘We are many language groups, but we came together and now we are one people. This art makes us strong.’
‘Wantili’ by Cyril Whyoulter of Martumili Artists. Image – courtesy of Martumili Artists.
‘Parnngurr Community’ by Bugai Whyoulter of Martumili Artists. Image – courtesy of Martumili Artists.
Martumili artists Elizabeth Toby and Lorna Linmurra. Photo – Kate Shanasy.
Left: Martumili artists painting at the art centre. Right: Artist Judith Anya Samson. Photo – Kate Shanasy.
From Left to right: ‘Untitled’ by Ivy Bidu, Untitled by Bugai Whyoulter, Nyurnma by Muuki Taylor of Martumili Artists. Images – courtesy of Martumili Artists.
Martumili Artists was established by Martu people living in the communities of Parnpajinya (Newman), Jigalong, Parnngurr, Punmu, Kunawarritji, Irrungadji and Warralong. The artists and their families are the traditional custodians of vast stretches of the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts as well as the Karlamilyi (Rudall River) area.
Bright, bold and expressive art making represents the exuberant personalities of the Martu people.
Younger Martu artists typically begin painting with their parents, grandparents and extended family, fostering an organic process of learning – not only about painting techniques, but also specific locations, family histories, traditional ways of life, bush tucker and Jukurrpa (Dreaming).
In this year’s Vivid festival in Sydney (postponed to September this year), eight Martumili artists will have their work light up the sails of the Sydney Opera House, bringing to life their 2013 collaborative artwork ‘Yarrkalpa (Hunting Ground), Parnngurr Area’!
Artist Corban Clause Williams of Martumili talks of the transfer of cultural knowledge from senior Martu artists to the younger generation: ‘The old people, they sit down and paint and tell stories of the old days, and we listen and learn.’
Pirrnpirrnga – Desert Bore by Ann Lane Nee Dixon of Ikuntji Artists. Photo – courtesy of Ikuntji Artists.
Artist Eunice Napanangka Jack working on a painting for a show. Photo – courtesy of Inkuntji Artists.
An Ikuntji artist working. Photo – courtesy of Inkuntji Artists.
Sheraldeen Marshall modelling pieces from the beautiful Inkuntji Artists x Publisher Textile collection! Photo – Christian Koch
Founded in 1992, Ikuntji Artists was the first art centre established by women in the Western Desert Art Movement.
Situated in the community of Haasts Bluff (Ikuntji) in Central Australia, which has a population of around 150 people, Inkuntji Artists has a board of seven Indigenous directors all of whom live and work locally.
Known also for their textile designs, recently Inkuntji have collaborated with Publisher Textiles on a clothing collection featuring the bold textile designs by artists Keturah Zimran, Mavis Nampitjinpa Marks, Eunice Napanangka Jack, Lisa Multa and Leonie Kamutu the collection shortlisted in the Textile Design category for the TDF Design Awards!
Artist and textile designer Keturah Zimran says, ‘I feel really proud of myself and my kids, seeing the paintings on the clothes. My dream is to keep doing the paintings, to keep going..… so I can teach my grandkids.’
Left: Ngiya Murrakupupuni by Dino Wilson of Jilamara Arts. Right: Timothy Cook with his painting Kulama and his Country Mananowmi in the distance, 2021. Photo – Will Heatcote for Jilamara Arts
Left: Ngiya Murrakupupuni by Michelle Woody Minnapinni of Jilamara Arts. Right: Pedro Wonaeamirri with his Tutini for NIRIN BoS, 2020. Photo – Will Heathcote for Jilamara Arts
Jilamara Arts + Crafts Association
Located in the community of Milikapiti on the north coast of Melville Island (off the coast of the Northern Territory), Jilamara Arts + Crafts Assoication represents Tiwi art from up to 60 local artists. Established in 1989, they are highly respected for work based on jilamara (body paint design), Tiwi creation stories and unique island ceremonies such as Kulama and Pukumani.
The Tiwi Islands have been separated from mainland Australia for at least 3000 years, leading to the development of regionally distinct creative practices.
Jilamara Arts and Crafts is fully owned and governed by Tiwi artists from the Milikapiti community, led by an Executive Committee of nine elected Tiwi directors.
‘We live on a remote community. It is time for us to be seen and heard. We want people to recognise how strong our culture is. Glimpse how beautiful and complex our culture is, our families, our counties, our history, our future. We adapt, we evolve, we change, we create as we write into the future’, says artist Colin Heenan-Puruntatameri.
Left: Weaving by Evonne Munuyngu of Bula’bula Arts. Right: Banda (Long Neck) by Roy Burnyila of Bula’bula Arts
Left to right: Collecting for weaving, Weavings by Janice Djupuduwuy and Julie Djulibing Malibirr of Bula’bula Arts.
Based in the Yolgnu community of Ramingining in central Arnhem land, Bula’bula is an arts centre supporting 150 artists from the town and surrounding art stations. The centre’s online store sells bark and canvas paintings depicting stories of Yolgnu culture in ochre, white clay and charcoal; as well as weavings and fibre art woven from locally harvested materials such as pandanus, sand palm and kurrajong bark stained with natural dyes made from fruits, roots and leaves.
Artwork by Johnny Warrkatja Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts. Image – courtesy of Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts.
Artwork by Johnny Warrkatja of Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts. Image – courtesy of Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts.
Gapuwiyak Culture And Arts
Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts is a remote Art Centre in east Arnhemland. There are eighteen clans in this region, each with their own interconnected clan estates, songs, patterns and designs.
The Art Centre is owned by Yolŋu members, have a Yolŋu Board, and employ a manager and arts workers, and supports over 100 artists from Gapuwiyak and surrounding homelands.
Artist Jason Marrkula is a Traditional Owner for the Gapuwiyak tribe and says ‘I like to share my culture with people through my art or by taking them to my land. I share my dreams, my stories with my mind and with my heart so people can learn about the land, the birds, the nature and our culture. This is really important for me.’
‘Untitled’ by Mulyatingki Marney and Nancy Nyanjilpayi of Spinifex Hill Artists.
‘Untitled’ by Nyangulya Katie Nalgood of Spinifex Hill Studio.
‘Wantili’ by Country Ngamaru Ngamaru Bidu of Spinifex Hill Studio.
‘Jarntinti’ by Nyanglpayi Nancy Chapman of Spinifex Hill Studio.
Left: ‘Untitled’ by Doreen Chapman of Spinifex Hill Studio. Right: ‘Untitled’ by Selena Brown of Spinifex Hill Studio.
Spinifex Hill Studio stands on Kariyarra Country in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It is home to one of the youngest Aboriginal art collectives in the north-west of Australia, Spinifex Hill Artists.
Over 100 emerging, mid-career and established artists make regular use of the Studio facilities, with a primary focus on contemporary acrylic painting in bright, confident colours. These are artists from many different language groups, including Kariyarra, Banyjima, Mangala, Manyjiljarra, Martu, Noongar, Nyangumarta, Nyamal, Nyiyarparli, Walmajarri, Warnman, Yamatji, Yindjibarndi.
Spinifex Hill differs from others in this list in that it is managed by FORM, a Western Australian non-profit cultural organisation. The Studio, the Spinifex Hill Artists, and FORM’s Pilbara-programming is supported through a long-term partnership between FORM and BHP.
After 8 months in construction, Spinifex Hill has just celebrated the opening of a brand new, beautiful Project Space with a new group exhibition, Where We Go to Paint (you can view the catalogue here).
Spinifex Hill Artist Maggie Green (stay tuned for our TDF Collect exhibition with Maggie later this year!) says, ‘We do painting good here. Everyone coming here for painting.’
A woven piece by Numbulwar Numburindi artists. Photo – courtesy of Numbulwar Numburindi.
A woven piece by Numbulwar Numburindi artists. Photo – courtesy of Numbulwar Numburindi.
Photo – courtesy of Numbulwar Numburindi artists.
Ladies with pandanus. Photo – courtesy of Numbulwar Numburindi artists.
Woven pieces by Numbulwar Numburindi artists. Photo – courtesy of Numbulwar Numburindi.
Numbulwar Numburindi Arts
Numbulwar Numburindi Arts (NNA) was established in 2019, and is Numbulwar’s first art centre. It is Located on the Rose River on the western coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria (Northern Territory).
Here, artists combine naturally-dyed and locally-harvested pandanus with bright and bold ghost nets, abandoned fishing nets retrieved from Numbulwar’s shorelines. By harvesting ghost nets, the artists perform a modern act of caring for Country, and use the found materials to create intricate wulbung (baskets) and yir (dilly bags).
NNA IS 100% owned and and controlled by the Numburindi people, and employs Numburindi arts workers in the daily running of the Centre
Artist Lillian Joshua explains a little more of the collection of the nets used in NNA works: ‘My son is a sea ranger. He picks the ghost nets up and brings them to the old ladies to use with their weaving, saving marine life, as they are dangerous for animals like turtles and seals.’
Left: Cynthia Burke on Country, Right: Artwork by Cynthia Burke of Maruku Arts.
Artwork by Niningka Lewis of Maruku Arts.
For 35 years Maruku has operated as a not-for-profit art and craft corporation across 22 communities in the NPY Lands, serving more than 500 artists. They are 100% owned by Anangu (Aboriginal people of the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjara language groups). Maruku Arts is the only organisation concentrating on punu (wood carving) in the Central and Western Desert area.
Maruku, literally means “belonging to black”, today is one of the largest and most successful indigenous owned and operated organisations.
Located at the Mutitjulu Community within the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, it services all the APY Lands communities, the Pitjantjara NT communities, and the Ngaanyatjara communities in Western Australia.
Maruku’s purpose is to keep culture strong and alive for future generations and to make culture accessible in an authentic and enduring way.
Currently, Maruku comprises of a warehouse based in Mutitjulu community and a retail gallery at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Centre. Additional to the retail arm, Maruku offers tours, workshops, demonstrations, traditional ceremonies and exhibitions.
Nora Abbott in the studio. Photo – courtesy of Tangentyere Artists.
‘Tempe Down, That Country and the Animal that Belong’ by Marjorie ‘Nunga’ Williams, 2020. Image – courtesy of the artist and Tangentyere Artists.
‘When I was Young One’ by Grace Robinya, 2021. Image – courtesy of the artist and Tangentyere Artists.
‘Waterhole inside Palm Valley’ by Joanne Napangardi Wheeler, 2021. Image – courtesy of the artist and Tangentyere Artists
‘Big Puta Puta After Rain’ by Nora Abbott, 2021. Image – courtesy of the artist and Tangentyere Artists
Tangentyere Art Centre
Established in 2005, Tangentyere Artists is an Aboriginal owned and run not-for-profit Art Centre in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). Tangentyere is an Arrernte word that means coming together, working together – which is exactly what they do.
Town Camp Artists communicate stories about their families, identity and lives in their artworks, and their practice aims to highlight the everyday experience of Aboriginal people in Central Australia. They are a hub for art activities across the 18 Town Camps of Mparntwe (Alice Springs), supporting emerging and established Town Camp artists through their studio, outreach program, gallery and online store
Artist April Spencer Napaltjarri says, ‘I love painting, telling stories with friends and family. I love coming here to Tangentyere Art Centre for a day of this, tea, people, canvas. Lots of people say hello! Hello! Happy people!’
Left to right: Tjulpus (birds) by Rochelle Ferguson, Tjilkamarta (echidna) by Lisa Armstrong, Papa (dog) by Katrina Tjitayi of Tjanpi Desert Weavers.
Left: Cynthia Burke from Warakurna (WA), 2019. Image by Jade Brockley Courtesy of Tjanpi Desert Weavers. Right: Umutja Toyota Come on Toyota! by Nellie Patterson of Tjanpi Desert Weavers.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers
Tjanpi Desert Weavers (Tjanpi meaning ‘wild grass’) is an award-winning, Indigenous governed and directed social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (NPYWC). They empower over 400 Anangu minyma (Aboriginal women) to earn an income and remain in their communities on Country.
Building upon a long history of using natural fibres to make objects for ceremonial and daily use, Tjanpi artists create vibrant sculptures and baskets using native grasses, wool and raffia. In 2020, Tjanpi senior artist Tjunkaya Tapaya OAM won the Handcrafted Category of the TDF Design Awards!
Fibre artist Nyurpaya Kaika-Burton says, ‘Nowadays there are many different ways in which we transmit those ancient stories because we really hold these stories strong… this sculptural way is a whole new other way… we go out into the country to the actual place where these stories take place, where these dreaming tracks move through the country. We go there and we find materials. These sculptural pieces here are filled up with the story from the land.’
Left: Nyapanyapa Yunupingu with her family. Right: Artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu celebrates finishing her huge work Djulpan-Seven Sisters. Photo – courtesy of Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre.