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Tiwi Treasures

Tiwi Island art centres, Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association and Munupi Aboriginal Arts and Crafts Association, have joined forces to present Ngininguwula Kurrujipuni (Our Own Tiwi Ochre Colours).

By Kate Conway

An annual highlight of Darwin Festival’s visual arts program, the exhibition showcases the very best on offer to eager art enthusiasts and collectors. The title of this year’s exhibition reflects the earthy colour scheme of ochre based red, yellow, black and white, signature to the region.

While Jilamara artists have consistently exhibited bark works including, tungas (folded bark baskets) and puringimparri (stringy bark), this year, for the first time in many years, artists from Munupi also present bark paintings. Reconnecting with the traditional, labour intensive process is a special experience.

“Many of the old artists that used to do bark paintings have passed away, and now people are ready to take it up again, they feel a bit more confident,” says Munupi Art Adviser Gina Allain.

“When they started the process, they had memories of being taught as children by their family members so it has been a really lovely process. It was intensive, but lovely.”

To open the exhibition, singers, dancers and artists from both centres perform a traditional yoi (dance) in a vibrant celebration that Jilamara's Will Heathcote says also reflects the performative roots and foundations of Tiwi art on show.

“Lots of Tiwi artwork is based in body paint design, and the combs artists use to paint is actually a body painting tool. People that come along to the yoi will see artists that have been painted up with that same tool, then, in the exhibition paintings that have been composed with the tool using the same ochre colours. It is great to have that link displayed to the audience.”

After previous years’ disruptions, uncertainty and industry changes – COVID, border closures and a push for new avenues of retail outcomes – Heathcote says what has been lacking is coming together in the community and this year, there is a hopeful buzz the event is returning to the previous model.

“There is a really great sense of community this generates. It’s great that artists can come together from regionally distinct places, even if it is just two sides of Melville Island, and share what they have been making and celebrate it all face to face. People are really excited about that.”

Ngininguwula Kurrujipuni (Our Own Tiwi Ochre Colours)

Thumbnail & inset: Susan Wanji Wanji Painting on Bark
Header: Dancers performing a yoi at Yirrinkirripwoja Jilamara, 2021 photo: Leonard Choice

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