The Museum of Contemporary Art looks for the young and hopeful in art every Spring “ thanks to the Jackson Family sponsorship in memory of their daughter Belinda, who died too young at 29. Curators of Primavera have mainly “ over its span of 21 years “ found non-Indigenous hopefuls; one might argue that it takes a specialist curator to understand the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art scenes. They must have had one such in 1997, when it was an all-Black show, and an open-minded person in 2005 when such strong prospects as Yukultji Napangati and Danie Mellor were justly plucked from anonymity.
And now again in 2012, Anna Davies has discovered two Indigenous artists who may be a match for their predecessors’ progress. Teho Ropeyarn is a wonderfully mixed-up Cape York man. He was born in Mt Isa “ but identifies most with the Injinoo Community, near Bamaga. He’s proudly from the Apudthama Nations, specifically the Angkamuthi, Yadhaikana and Atambaya clans “ his grandmother being the last full-blood speaker of the local tongue. But there are also other strands to Ropeyarn “ the Woppaburra from Great Keppel Island, the Butchulla from Fraser Island, and more than a hint of the Torres Straits – Mer, Badu and Moa Islands.
This last matters “ for Ropeyarn’s work has a strong flavour of Torres Strait linocut work about it “ much more Cairns (where he now lives and works with master print-maker, Theo Tremblay) than COFA (where he studied). There are sharp black and white lines, and very detailed background patterning around totemic animals such as turtles and crocodiles. The latter featuring in a strong work, Madang Ikamba at this year’s NATSIAAs (also at the MCA) in which crocodiles illustrate the roles that need to be played for cultural traditions to continue in the future; We need to be like crocodiles to fight for our land, protect our culture and guide the next generation, the artist is quoted as saying’.
The other Indigenous Spring-chicken is Dion Beasley of the Alyawarr language group in Central Australia. Dion is a real character – born in 1991 and suffering from severe muscular dystrophy as well as being profoundly deaf.
Not a good mix in remote communities in the desert. But fortunately he found Joie Boulter, a retired primary school teacher when he moved from Owaitilla to the slightly less remote Tennant Creek a few years ago. Joie and Dion both learnt Auslan, the Australian sign-language together, and this opened up lines of communication to the world. And Dion’s drawing gave him a creative and enjoyable outlet for his energies “ as well as an income. For his first efforts turned into the successful Cheeky Dog! Line of clothing and tea-towels, marketed online.
Dion now lives at Mulga Camp on the edge of Tennant Creek and is fascinated by the camp dogs that live in the community. Dion is a keen observer and commentator on life at Mulga Camp. The behaviour and social structure of the camp dogs are enormously entertaining to him and he draws them in a variety of moods and situations, moving on from just animals (which have included The Lion King since he saw the show in Melbourne) to comment on relationships between people and animals,
In 2008 Dion Beasley developed a series of limited edition hand coloured silk screen prints that were editioned at Julalikari Art Centre in Tennant Creek. In 2010, Northern Editions printmakers Leon Stainer and Kevin Banbury worked with Beasley to produce a series of etchings at Charles Darwin University.
The MCA selection includes a hilarious vitrine in which he’s made a model of Mulga Bore’s houses and filled each one with the appropriate number of stones to represent its camp dog population “ up to 20!
Some nice work from the other 72% of Primavera too “ look out for some heavenly albatrosses and Anastasia Klose dancing.