That’s what it felt like in the Seaforth (on Sydney’s northern peninsular) gallery of Trevor Victor Harvey (TVH) the other night.
For the dissident clans had gathered from all over art-dealing Australia to show support for Chris Simons, the bogeyman of Alice Springs. Dressed immaculately in a charcoal suit, he needed to say nothing publicly. For leading the charge on his behalf was none other than Alison Anderson MLA “ the Luritja Pintupi woman. who was once Arts Minister in the NT (and remains an independent MP), in the news then for her trenchant views on protecting the ‘sacredness’ of early Papunya boards, and who remains there for her upfront approach to child prostitution and Aboriginal drinking in her backyard of Alice Springs.
Mind you, it was her art which was the ostensible reason why we were gathered there.
It was her speech, though, that threw down a gauntlet to the dominant community art centre system that many set great store by when identifying (and buying) ethically provenanced Aboriginal art. Anderson, on the other hand, sees it only as a patronising way for the white art mafia to tell Aboriginal artists how they should paint and who they should paint for. That mafia wants us to stay in misery and poverty so that we continue to rely on them, she told me; and they’re all just amateurs “ unemployable in Sydney or Melbourne!
Having once painted for Warumpi the community art centre in Papunya, Anderson has now thrown in her lot with Chris Simons and his Yanda organisation as her sole dealer. From Yanda’s property outside Alice where, Anderson says, up to 50, mainly Papunya Tula artists were happily painting over Christmas, she forsees her art going to shows at the Metro Gallery in Melbourne, Suzanne O’Connell’s Brisbane gallery, Mark Walker’s new Harvison Gallery in Perth plus Jackie McPhee’s in Margaret River. All were there in Sydney on the night to sample her wares.
They must have appreciated the fact that half of Anderson’s bold, womanly, post-Papunya works had sold at TVH for prices ranging from $2,500 to $16,000. By that description I mean that most canvases contain the ancient ceremonial emblems of the Desert, but this artist has a more decorative and colourful way of presenting them compared to the works approved by her grandfather, Old Bert Jakamarra at Papunya in 1971. For she’s been through ceremony too; You have to to be a painter, she insists. And the message behind her exhibition was the importance of dance/ceremony in connecting tribespeople from different areas and in defining the relationships between different skin groups.
So Alison Anderson is prepared to ignore (or possible take head on) the unofficial boycott by State galleries, major prizes and some auction houses of great artists’ work “ she throws out names like Mrs Bennett, Ningura Napurrula, George Tjungarriyi and Tjawina Porter “ when they choose to paint canvases for Yanda. Chris looks after those old people beautifully “ three meals a day and protection from drunken humbugging by their families; visits to their communities, and then he’ll drive for hours to bring them back two weeks later.
And she’s certainly continuing to paint. I started years ago “ there’s an old one of mine in the Holmes a Court Collection. But I only began to take it seriously 5 years ago. I needed to separate the ugly (political) part of my life from the beautiful.