With far too little fanfare, a week of action was launched on November 4 in support of the vital Uluru Statement from the Heart, released last year by delegates to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Referendum Convention held near Uluru in Central Australia. Many in Canberra may be happy to think that the whole important process had gone away.
But the flame of the Uluru Statement has been kept alive through the Uluru Position Working Group, which was elected to move the reforms proposed in the Statement forward. And the week of action was intended as a ripple effect from the Heart. One aspect of it is an art exhibition in Sydney “ which is still on. It’s the outcome of the efforts of Rene Kulitja, the artist who created the painting that frames the Uluru Statement from the Heart, who gathered a group of 12 female artists from the Anangu Peoples of the APY Lands to produce a body of work in response to the Statement.
The result is Kunturu Kulini ” Heart Listening.
The daughter of the founders of the Maruku art centre at Uluru, Walter Pukutiwara and Topsy Tjulyata, Rene Kulitja is most recognised for her painting in 2000 which became the first of a series of Aboriginal paintings to cover the fuselages of Qantas planes. She is prolific in many fields: a punu-maker, painter, tjanpi-weaver, land manager, mother, grandmother and aunty, she is respected as a senior community representative and cultural custodian. She has exhibited in major shows regionally, nationally and internationally and has collaborated widely over the years, including a presence at the Venice Biennale in 2010 with Fiona Hall and work that toured to China in collaboration with the Melbourne-based artist, Zhou Xiaoping.
Rene was involved as a senior Anangu representative in the 2017 National Constitutional Convention held at Uluru. Following this summit, she directed the painting of the Statement from the Heart in canvas form. This painting was able to bind the discussions that took place with the written statement in a tangible way. Resolutions from the Convention were delivered to Federal Parliament while Malcolm Turnbull was still Prime Minister and were largely dismissed, despite being a defining moment in the history of Indigenous struggle. Meanwhile, the painted Statement from the Heart has travelled extensively around Australia, gathering signatures and support from Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike.
The painting became the starting point for discussion for this exhibition and the artists came up with a concept they named Kunturu Kulini, meaning Heart Listening.
This exhibition became an opportunity to create a show with Maruku collective artists, many of whom had had few opportunities to paint before. It meant creating a strategy for studio practice in painting, especially for the younger artists.
A series of meetings led by senior artist and Maruku director Rene Kulitja were held with the group: Niningka Lewis, Selina Kulitja, Kathryn Queama, Yuka Trigger, Francine Kulitja, Lucinda James, Beryl De Rose, Marlene Connelly, Margaret Cotchilli and Freda Teamay, and later Nelly Patterson. These meetings culminated in a bush camp workshop, with extended family, kids and camp dogs all in tow. For a week the artists camped in the sand dunes near Uluru; hauling firewood and water, organising the camp kitchen, mixing paint, cutting canvas, talking and not talking, resolving dramas, telling stories, singing, dancing, fighting, crying and praying.
It is from here, the Heart Listening exhibition has evolved.
Camperdown’s Artsite Gallery offered space in Sydney “ though it’s Indigenous art associations seem limited to a photographic show related to Megan Lewis’s book, ‘Conversations with the Mob’ back in 2012.
Artist: Rene Kulitja, Niningka Lewis, Selina Kulitja, Kathryn Queama, Yuka Trigger, Francine Kulitja, Lucinda James, Beryl De Rose, Marlene Connelly, Margaret Cotchilli, Freda Teamay, Nelly Patterson,