The saga continues with news that the Indigenous Art Code (IartC) has terminated the APY Art Centre Collective’s membership of the Code. As the IartC is the pre-eminent ethical body for the business of Aboriginal art, this is a significant blow for the chances of the APYACC surviving as the marketing and sales organisation for the six community art centres in the remote APY Lands across the north of South Australia.

As anyone who has followed the saga on will know, this all began with a lengthy investigation by The Australian newspaper which included film of white staffers appearing to make major aesthetic decisions about a painting by elder artist Yaritji Young. Oddly, several institutions attempted to argue that this was reasonable behaviour for an elderly white artist, so why not for Yaritji?

Subsequently, four uber organisations for community art centres – Desart, ANKA, AACHWA and Ku Arts – representing the vast majority of remote artists have (with the support of AAD) pointed out that the spiritual dimension of Aboriginal artists painting their jukurrpa made this quite different from the atheistic norms of whitefellar art. The four have called for the head of APYACC, Skye O’Meara to step down while two enquiries continue.

These have been established by the National Gallery – for it was to open a major show in June presented by APYACC artists – and the Federal Arts Ministry plus the relevant governments in SA and the NT. As the latter enquiry has no terms of reference yet, this could take some time.

Regarding the IartC action, the APYACC isn’t taking it lying down, claiming both “that IartC acted without regard to due process or natural justice, and that APYACC was not given an opportunity to be heard on the issue”.

Under its constitution, the IartC must give “At least 21 days before the Directors meet to consider the question of action against a Member under Rule 5.9, the Directors must send a notice to the Member which states:
(i) the substance of the information known to the Directors, that may be relied
upon by them in making their decision; and
(ii) the manner in which the Member is invited to address the meeting”.

And Gabrielle Sullivan, IartC’s CEO insists that these conditions were followed punctiliously – though she refused to explain what information was used to establish the Code’s case or whether the APYACC had attempted to respond at a meeting.

And she may well have a constitutional point in her silence, for the next paragraph of the IartC’s constitution states: “The Directors are not obliged to give reasons for any decision they make under Rule 5.9” – which perhaps sounds a little contradictory to their obligation to supply a case to the party being expelled.

But of course the Code is voluntary – so this action won’t stop APYACC trading, as evidenced by an email today assuring me that their new gallery in Adelaide’s Thebarton offers “A wonderful opportunity to purchase art for your business and deduct the entire amount on your tax return. The government’s Temporary Full Expensing (TFE) measure was introduced in 2020 to stimulate business investment during the pandemic. It expires on 30 June 2023”.

This all comes at a time when the unquestioned validity of the community art centre model for First Nations art is under pressure. The long-term support given by an ethical gallerist such as Dallas Gold at Raft Gallery (once in Darwin, now in Mparntwe) is in doubt, he tells me reluctantly. As a result, he’s currently touring a show of the Tennant Creek Brio to a public gallery in Sydney. I hope to find out more; and I’m working on an exit interview with the long-serving Warlukulangku Art Centre coordinator, Cecilia Alfonso – why is she leaving her beloved Warlpiri?

Rhoda Tjitayi artwork in Thebarton