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AFL & the Heart of Tiwi

It’s become tradition for many to make the trek by land, air and sea to the Tiwi Islands for what is without a doubt the biggest annual celebration of Tiwi art and culture. And although Aussie Rules Football and art may seem an odd pair, it’s a match made in heaven for the proud custodians of the Tiwi Islands.

By Tierney Seccull

Since 1930, AFL has been a big part of Tiwi history. Local teams battle it out during the Wet season for a chance to play the most-anticipated match of the year – the Grand Final. The annual event on Bathurst Island, located 80km north of Darwin, was postponed this year from its regular spot in March, the 2022 event the first time it has been held outside the official Wet Season.

Not only is it a chance for talented footy players to demonstrate their incredible skills on the field – this popular annual event is a beautiful showcase of authentic and original Tiwi art.

For many years, Munupi Arts and Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association have joined forces to host the huge art sale, drawing just as much hype and excitement as the footy.

“Jilamara Arts are bringing a range of artworks from both established and emerging artists working at the art centre in Milikapiti,” says Jilamara’s Will Heathcote.

“There are ochre paintings for which Jilamara artists have become well-known, and also works on paper, prints, ironwood carvings and hand screen-printed fabrics produced locally by Jilamara artists and staff.”

With access to the Islands limited throughout the year, and with the pandemic interrupting opportunities the artists would normally have to exhibit, Munupi Arts’ Manager Guy Allain says they’re ready.

“The Munupi artists are feeling very excited about the art sale and footy final, especially as it was cancelled earlier in the year due to COVID, and they thought it wasn’t happening this year,” he says.

“They’re hoping that the people will still come, even though it’s in a different month. They’re currently working very hard getting some great work ready especially for the sale.”

Will agrees, and says the event is important, both for the Tiwi-based artists and for people from other remote communities.

“One of the biggest challenges of pandemic restrictions at the art centre has been disruptions to artists from various remote communities coming together for major annual events. Events such as this are an opportunity for artists to come together and share what they have been working on with each other and the broader community.”

If you’ve been on the fence about heading along, Guy has some words that might get you booking a seat on the ferry or chartering a private plane.

“This is a very special event in the Tiwi that occurs every year. It’s very exciting, as the Tiwi take their footy finals and their artwork very seriously,” he says.

“It’s a chance to see some great football and pick up some wonderful artworks, and to meet the artists who will be there with their work. A very exciting time indeed. The Tiwi Islands are very beautiful, and the artwork created is unique to the islands.”

Tiwi Islands Grand Final & Art Sale 2022

Thumbnail & inset: Photo courtesy of the artists and Jilamara Arts and Crafts
Header: Nicholas Gouldhurst

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