Amongst a cornucopia of events, books and concepts flying around the Indigenous world at this time of year, the outstanding one is surely the debut of First Nations NFTs – the trendiest things of 2021.
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have been dubbed word of the year by the Collins Dictionary, its practice growing a staggering 1,100% in a year when eye-watering auction records – would you believe US$69m – and legal actions came in equal measure.
Not so hot in Oz, perhaps, but the action has almost inevitably come from that most dynamic of operations, the Mulka Centre at Buku Larrnggay in Yirrkala, east Arnhemland. Why bother, you might ask, when the Centre already makes award-winning films that augment and inform on the depths of Yolngu culture on bark and larrakitj that the Elders hold so dear. The official answer is that NFTs provide “an avenue for Yolŋu artists to mint and authenticate their digital work”.
As might be expected, one of the pioneers is the inventive Ishmael Marika; the other is Wukun Wanambi whose digital manipulation of the fish that are such a familiar part of his painting has already spread across floors and swum across viewers. Both were recipients of the M H Carnegie Fine Art NFT fellowship award and are both members of MintNFT, Australia’s first fine art NFT collective.
While Wanambi’s work is based on a highly detailed photogrammetry scan of one of his bark paintings, Marika’s NFTs are uniquely generated from his hand drawings and are single editions within a collection. As the Mulka Project’s Joseph Brady explained to me, “The major difference between Ishmael’s films and his NFTs is the deployment”.
“Once a traditional digital work is on the secondary or third market it’s provenance becomes harder to authenticate. NFTs have decentralised this process. You can still copy them or steal them or screengrab them, but their ownership is permanently and publicly accessible on the block chain. If the artwork changes hands 100 times you can instantly trace it’s origins back to the artist through every owner it’s ever had”.
Decentralising the authentication process into a publicly accessible ledger means people can buy and sell art with completely anonymous strangers with trust; trust not in the individual selling, but in the artwork itself”.
Unfortunately, the only way for this to work is you have to buy a Marika or Wunambi NFT with cryptocurrency!
Meanwhile, if your stocking could be topped up in regional Victoria, the Shepparton Art Museum has opened in a building that is itself an artwork. Within, one of the largest Indigenous art collections, mainly donated by the Gantner Family is on display. Appropriately, they’ve opened with an exhibition of Yorta Yorta man Lin Onus’s work. Immediately afterwards, the Director who’d borned the museum, Rebecca Coates, resigned.
Elsewhere in regional Victoria, Adam Knight, who already sells Aboriginal art out of huge gallery in the Mitchelton Winery, announced plans for another in the Yarra Valley – at St Huberts Winery, opening in February. The art of Gabriella Possum has also found its way on to the wine bottles themselves.
And in rural SA, the painting ladies of Umoona, part of Cooper Pedy have been discovered and promoted by the APY Art Centre Collective in Adelaide, allowing them to sell art outside town for the first time as well as imagining an art centre of their own.
In the cities, the prime exhibition is surely ‘Bark Ladies‘ at the NGV. Eleven of the Yolngu’s finest have contributed their works on bark and larrikitj, but they’ve also thrown in the voices on film. So, even if you’re not in Melbourne, you can catch up right now with artists Naminapu Maymuru-White and Dhambit Munuŋgurr who talk about learning to paint from their family members and their passion to continue to paint today. The episode also features Yolŋu rapper, dancer and 2019 Young Australian of the Year Baker Boy. There’s a new episode with different artists each month. Episode 4 in March, for instance features the youthful Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs talking about her late grandmother, Mrs N Yunupingu.
Over in the West, the Art Gallery of WA has just reopened with a ton of Indigenous work from WA on show, but they’ve also pulled in ‘Ever Present’, a big touring show of First Nations art from the National Gallery. Even better is to come. In March, ‘Tracks We Share: Contemporary Art of the Pilbara‘ will be a landmark exhibition of Aboriginal art from the Pilbara region. Featuring over 200 works from more than 70 artists, the exhibition will highlight and celebrate the diverse art of the Pilbara as an outcome of the multi-year project that has mapped the Pilbara’s Aboriginal art movement for the first time.
The exhibition is a collaboration between WA non-profit arts and cultural organisation FORM, AGWA and Aboriginal art centres; Cheeditha Art Group, Juluwarlu Art Group, Martumili Artists, Spinifex Hill Studio and Yinjaa-Barni Art.
We might even be able to visit WA in March!
Finally some books for your stocking that don’t require a visa to buy! It’s often said that governments successfully deny sympathy for imprisoned refugees by simply keeping them out of sight. Giving historic Aborigines personality and profile can thus be seen as part of the process of reconciliation with our First Nations. So two books about warrior heroes – a class so often denied when people make comparison with the war-like Maori – is a good point to start. Neither can be called a familiar name – Tongerlongeter and Windradyne. The former – a Vandermonian hero from a place he called lutruwita – is profiled by Henry Reynolds and Nicholas Clement for New South Books.
‘Gudyarra’ is the Wiradjuri word for the war which happened in the 1820s when colonialists finally got over the Blue Mountains and expected to find great grazing and suppliant natives. Windradyne – or Saturday – and his warriors were not predicted by the pastoralists. So they called in the troops. The little known Bathurst War which followed seems to have involved 10 local massacres as attested by historian Stephen Gapps, who has some credit in this area having pioneered with his ‘Sydney Wars’ a few years ago. It’s also published by New South Books.
Mind you, the book that I’m most looking forward to reading over Christmas is the mighty ‘Balgo : Creating Country’ about the history of art-making in that Tanami Desert community by assiduous researcher, John Carty. UWA Publishing.
Artist: Ishmael Marika, Wukun Wanambi, Lin Onus, Gabriella Possum, Naminapu Maymuru-White, Dhambit Munuŋgurr, Mrs N Yunupingu,
Tags: adam knight , AGWA , cryptocurrency , Dhambit Munuŋgurr , First Nations NFTs , FORM , gabriella possum , Ishmael Marika , Jeremy Eccles , John Carty , lin onus , Mrs N Yunupingu , Mulka Centre , naminapu maymuru-white , Shepparton Art Museum , Tongerlongeter , Umoona , Windradyne , wukun wanambi ,