The Queens Birthday Honours may have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons “ too many politicians going over and beyond in backstabbing and power-grabbing, for instance “ but it’s been a bonza year for remote First Nations artists “ especially those from South Australia. That suggests to me that the SA government which greeted last year’s Tarnanthi Festival so enthusiastically may well have played a part in nominating some of its greatest classical artists “ along with the curator at the Art Gallery of SA “ Nici Cumpston “ who’s done her bit to bring them to national prominence.
Here’s the list of Medallists
Peter Mungkuri (SA) “ For service to Indigenous visual art, and to the community. From the Indulkana Community on APY Lands he is a respected elder and a stockman in his younger years. He played a key role in the development of APY Land Rights Act. He is a director at Iwantja Arts and a winner of the inaugural Hadley’s Prize for landscape painting in 2017, also the Telstra NATSIAA General Painting Award in 2018.
Vincent Namatjira (SA) “ For service to Indigenous visual art, and to the community. From the remote Indulkana APY Lands, Namatjira was the winner of the 2019 Ramsay Art Prize. He was also an organiser of the important ‘Weapons for the Soldier’ exhibition at Hazelhurst Gallery in 2018, encouraging fellow young Anangu to fight for their culture. Namatjira’s great grandfather, Albert Namatjira met the Queen and received the Coronation Medal.
Tjunkaya Tapaya (SA) “ For service to Indigenous visual art, and to the community. Tjunkaya grew up at the Ernabella Mission, which became the earliest Aboriginal art centre in 1948, where she made significant batik works and later tjanpi sculptural work and ceramics. Recently she has concentrated on walka painting. She is also a prolific writer in Pitjantjatjara.
The late Mr Mumu Mike Williams (SA) “ For service to Indigenous visual art, and to the community. Mr Williams was a founding member of Mimili Maku Arts Centre and the APY Arts Centre Collective. His politically-toned artwork is featured in the 2020 Biennale of Sydney. After his passing last year, his passionately penned book, ‘Kulinmaya! Listen Up Everybody’ was published.
Nyurpaya Kaika Burton (SA) “ For service to Indigenous visual art, and to the community. Mrs Burton is an Anangu artist, especially with Tjanpi Desert Weavers. She has been a Director for NPY Women’s Council, and has also a long standing Director of Tjala Arts in remote Amata. Nyurpaya is currently writing her memoirs in her first language Pitjantjatjara.
Muuki Taylor (WA) for services to the Indigenous communities of the Western Desert. Muuki is a very senior and knowledgeable Martu man and is often called upon as an authority by other artists. He works as a senior cultural advisor for local Martu ranger group, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, providing invaluable cultural advice and guidance. Muuki paints Kulyakartu country and the country all around Wirnpa, a major ceremonial meeting place in the north.
And then there are the facilitators:
Nicole Jane Cumpston (SA) “ For service to the museums and galleries sector, and to Indigenous art. Cumpston is the Art Gallery of SA’s Indigenous Curator and Tarnanthi Artistic Director “ the biennial festival that she founded. Nici, a Barkindji woman, is also a fine photographer of her Country and its much-threatened river, with a work in this year’s NATSIAAs final.
Sarah Louise Brown (Alice Springs NT) An AM for significant service to community health, to remote area nursing, and to the Indigenous community. Sarah runs the Purple House organisation “ aka the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, which maintains dialysis operations in remote communities as far away as Groote Eyelandt, and operates the Purple Truck for those communities without a permanent clinic. She also paints herself “ currently on show at the Paul Johnstone Gallery in Darwin.
And, last but definitely not least, Professor Marcia Lynne Langton AM (VIC) is promoted to AO for her distinguished service to tertiary education and her activism in the Indigenous cause, especially promoting the Uluru Statement. In the arts, her significance lies with her role in developing the governance of the Jirrawun art collective in the East Kimberley, bringing her connections at Rio Tinto to that brief but brilliant party.
This surprisingly positive result for the Aboriginal art world surely shows the effectiveness of State governments in promoting their artists – what, no NT or Queensland honours? – and also the absence of bias in the Governor-General’s Honours Office. For a recent ANU study has found that a shocking seventy-five per cent of Australians hold an implicit bias against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Artist: Nici Cumpston, Peter Mungkuri, Vincent Namatjira, Tjunkaya Tapaya, Albert Namatjira, Mumu Mike Williams, Nyurpaya Kaika Burton, Muuki Taylor,