“Only Black hands on Black art” proclaims the Harvey Galleries website provocatively. For they’re playing on a series of articles in The Australian newspaper apparently revealing the substantial work of white studio assistants on canvases by Aboriginal artists from the APY Lands, emblazoning the first with the headline, “White Hands on Black Art”.

In the background here is the long-established reality that many desert artists when they visit Alice Springs for health or other reasons are happily accommodated by the entrepreneurial Chris Simon at his Yanda Art property just outside the town, choosing to paint for him rather than remain exclusively in their ‘official’ relationship with their art centres.

Or with the APY Art Centre Collective – the marketing organisation behind a group of APY art centres from those remote Lands across the top of South Australia. In 2019, the APYACC had made complaints to various governments about the ‘stealing’ of APY artists by ‘carpet-baggers’ which were taken seriously at the highest level and reported unquestioningly by media organisations like The Guardian.

Now it seems that the boot is on the other foot. For while a senior artist like Yaritji Young needed assistance to complete her complex canvases at her art centre, she was happy to produce (and complete) eight major canvases for Yanda, now on sale in Sydney at the Harvey Galleries at prices ranging from $22,000 to $36,000.

“I see them as ancient graffiti”, assessed an enthusiastic Trevor Victor Harvey as we watched film of Young at work, starting one canvas by pouring the paint from a pot with the confidence of Jackson Pollack beginning ‘Blue Poles’. Of course Harvey is taking every advantage of the recent publicity, touting on his website, “In light of the recent and important exposé on high profile interferences with Indigenous artists, their work, and the representation of their sacred Tjukurrpa, we are proud to showcase and directly support the artists who were unfairly caught up in it (with) an ethically acquired and authentic collection from the Ken Sisters; Tjungkara Ken and Yaritji Young”.

All five of the Ken Sisters Collaborative memorably combined to win the Wynne Prize in 2016 with their dynamic rendering of the important Seven Sisters Songline. Now, the younger Tjungkara continues to tell that story with a series of bold red variations. While Yaritji creates her own unique versions of the Tjala (Honey Ant) Dreaming, though some (including the Art Gallery of NSW) have noted associations with the landscapes of the late John Olsen.

Seemingly the recent controversy hasn’t daunted collectors, for six of the canvases have sold. Perhaps the agency of the artists has been appreciated. The exhibition is definitely worth a visit at Harvey’s Seaforth gallery – though it’s only open until 6pm on Saturday 8th July.