The Art Gallery of South Australia has announced that this year’s Tarnanthi Festival, its annual celebration of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, will highlight how the creativity of First Nations women artists forms a vital cultural link in sharing knowledge across generations. The exhibition will be called Open Hands and will be held from 16 October until 31 January 2021. AGSA also announced that the Tarnanthi Art Fair will be held from 4 – 6 December, and, likely, won’t need to happen online.

Tarnanthi’s creative vision is led by Barkandji artist and curator Nici Cumpston, who says, Open Hands celebrates the ongoing and often unseen work that women in communities do to maintain culture. Keeping these stories alive and sharing knowledge is deeply embedded within everyday life across Australia.

For this year’s Tarnanthi, artists have employed a wide variety of media, including painting, works on paper, photography, moving image, sound installation, weaving, ceramics and sculpture. The thread that binds these works together from across the continent is the role of art. The stories they share are as rich and diverse as their practices.

The next wave of work from artists in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands focuses on bold new ways of communicating through drawing “ an important art form that is embedded in teaching culture. The resulting works etch stories into wood, photography and works on paper.

Also from the heart of Central Australia are the vibrant paintings of life in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) that have been transformed into animations by artists from Tangentyere Art Centre.
Meanwhile, Lena Yarinkura and her daughter Yolanda Rostron, from Maningrida, have made an installation of woven sculptures from natural materials found on their homelands. Their work shares the stories associated with Ngalbenbe, the Sun Story, and relies on the ingenuity of the human hand to bring stories to life.

From the hands of Naomi Hobson on Cape York in FNQ comes ‘Adolescent Wonderland’, a series of evocative photographic portraits of young people in her community of Coen, telling the stories of life in this small town.

Also, among the 87 artists in Tarnanthi 2020 are mother-daughter duo Sonja Carmichael and Elisa-Jane Carmichael, from Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island). Together, they have created delicate woven objects deeply embedded in culture. These objects reappear as ghostly images within large scale textiles using the cyanotype alternative photographic technique.

The annual Tarnanthi Art Fair, designed as a COVID-safe event for 2020, will be held in early December. This year’s Art Fair will, as is a unique feature of the South Australian model, offer curated displays of works for sale, carefully selected by art centres.

AGSA Director Rhana Devenport reminds us that, Creating art is a vital source of income that supports economic empowerment and cultural resilience in remote communities. Through the Tarnanthi Art Fair, buyers are guaranteed that every dollar from sales goes directly back to artists and their communities.

Tarnanthi will also have its first international offering in 2020 in France. Here the men behind the ongoing Kulata Tjuta Project will be showing new spear-based works as well as canvases by a total of thirty-four artists from the APY Lands. The exhibition will occupy an entire floor of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, Brittany from October 16th. The exhibition will be supported by a trilingual publication in Pitjantjatjara, English and French.

Laura Tyler, Olympic Dam Asset President for BHP says, Every year, our relationship with Tarnanthi becomes deeper and more meaningful as we see first-hand the extraordinary example and transformative power of art to drive sustainable social, cultural and economic outcomes for communities. Ms Tyler has recently been promoted to be BHP’s Chief Technical Officer in charge of the so-called BHP Operating System. Let’s hope she takes an enthusiasm for things Indigenous with her.

It would seem that Tarnanthi is now a full-scale annual event in Adelaide “ originally the festival happened every second year. Whether other galleries will come to the party or not is as yet unclear.