The East Kimberley was the first place in WA to join the Aboriginal art movement that spread from Papunya in the 1970s. As is well-known, Rover Thomas had a Dream following the awesome devastation of Cyclone Tracey; to share it he needed dancing and painted boards. Painting those boards lead him and other Warman (Turkey Creek) elders such as Paddy Jaminji, Queenie McKenzie and Hector Jandany to pick up their brushes and record some of the important stories of Gija mythology and Gija life.
Later, Jirrwaun Artists would emerge from the same community. But it moved away from the increasingly disfunctional Warmun.
Now Warmun itself has been washed away in a mighty flood that some are seeing as a wake-up call to the dissolute reminiscent of Cyclone Tracey. But, washed away at the same time was much of the art that remained such a beacon of hope to the remaining Gija elders. An audit has found that 730 new paintings went down the river!
The story cannot be better told than through the words of Nicolas Rothwell in The Australian newspaper:
Not mentioned, but fingers crossed for some of the great, Christian paintings by the early Warmun artists that were held in the local Catholic schoolhouse.
And as I was writing this, more bad news arrived as the insurance companies have denied the art centre’s claims – so it will be some time before it can be repaired. But they are determined to re open the gallery somehow so people can come and visit, see the devastation and buy a painting or two to allow Warmun Art to build up again.
But then there’s the Good News for artists across The Kimberley:
Rio Tinto and the Art Gallery of Western Australia have announced a new 18-month partnership to highlight the rich culture of the Indigenous peoples of the Kimberley.
The $250,000 collaboration will support the exploration of important custodial narratives and
traditions often seen in Kimberley art, with an objective of developing a significant visual arts project.
Dr Stefano Carboni, Director of the Art Gallery of WA, said that he was delighted with this exciting opportunity for the Gallery to further develop relationships with Indigenous communities through the support of Rio Tinto. Having Rio Tinto embrace the possibilities of this vision enables us to spend critical time working closely with communities, learning more about their cultures and aspirations and finding new ways we can engage with the community on this exciting project, said Dr Carboni. I am particularly pleased to gain support for a project that is unique in enabling its purpose to be defined by the Indigenous communities who chose to participate, rather than being driven by the Gallery.
Sam Walsh AO, chief executive Iron Ore WA, said Rio Tinto was proud to be involved with a
project of this integrity that advocated an open versus a prescriptive approach. This is an excellent opportunity to support Aboriginal communities across the Kimberley working with our State’s leading visual arts institution to create something new and relevant to the communities’
own cultural aspirations, said Mr Walsh.
The Gallery’s Curator of Indigenous Art, Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, will coordinate the project. Mr Pilkington said initial discussions would be held with key Kimberley Indigenous art centres to look at the objectives for phase one of the project. The Kimberley has an established network of arts centres experienced in working with celebrated artists, and we hope these same communities will want to engage with us in developing this exciting project, said Pilkington. We envisage that our cultural network with Indigenous communities, regional, government and local organisations will be greatly enriched as a result of this engagement.
The new partnership is the latest supported by the Rio Tinto WA Future Fund. Now in its tenth year, the Fund has invested more than $35 million over this time to build a stronger, more sustainable Western Australian community.
But – an update on matters above – the Bad just got a little Better as the Federal Arts Ministry found $30,000 for Warmun’s flooded art centre. As coordinator Maggie Fletcher told me: “The $30,000, while not sounding so much, is a welcome contribution from the Office for the Arts to help Warmun Art carry on to the end of the financial year as we try to resume operations. These funds will help with salaries and operating expenses during this time since income is greatly reduced while the gallery is still closed. It will not be helping repairs to the Art Centre which is dependant on a web of other issues” – such as reluctant insurance companies!