Across Central Australia there are 18 ‘Town Camps’, the name given to Aboriginal housing associations around Mparntwe (Alice Springs). These include Larapinta, home to the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists and their internationally renowned soft sculptures, and Hidden Valley Town Camp, where Ewyenper Atwatye Artists create vibrant textiles. Together, the artists spread across these locations are known as Town Camp Artists, but apart, each artist produces their own distinct visions of family, identity and connection to place.
Tangentyere Artists is the Aboriginal owned and run arts centre that sits at its core. The Tangentyere studio, gallery and outreach program supports emerging and established artists in Mparntwe and at the Larapinta and Hidden Valley Town Camps. Created by the Elders of the Tangentyere Council, the word ‘tangentyere’ means ‘coming together, working together’.
Despite the fact that Town Camp Artists speak over ten different languages, one of the key factors of the centres are as hubs for storytelling. As artists gather each day to make art, they also share stories and memories. ‘I like painting all my stories,’ says Doris Thomas, a Town Camp Artist. ‘When I go to the art centre to make the stories, I feel happy, sitting around painting. I like painting with all the ladies.’
Grace Kemarre Robinya was one of the first artists to start painting in the Tangentyere Council office (before the studio and gallery opened in 2013!), and echoes Doris’ enthusiasm for trading skills and stories with other artists: ‘I learned women’s story, how to paint all the cowboys. I like to work, sitting down, all the ladies. All the time I am happy. Always telling my stories.’
Thea Perkins is an Arrernte and Kalkadoon woman based in Sydney and Alice Springs, and balances her time figurative painting in Mparntwe with an emerging full-time practice in the east coast city. She was a finalist in the Archibald Prize last year, and joins Town Camp Artists Doris, Grace and Sally M. Nangala Mulda as finalists for the prestigious Alice Prize, which is now on exhibition at Araluen Art Centre.
What makes Tangentyere unique is the diversity of its Town Camp Artists and their materials, presenting textiles and figurative painting in rich colour palettes, and fusing traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art-making techniques. All of this was all due to be on show this April, in an exhibition titled ‘Kwatye Atnyeme, Kwatye Urewe’ – All The Rain Falling, All The Water Flowing’.
‘At the start of the year we had proper rain,’ says Grace Kemarre Robinya. ‘All the rain falling, all the water flowing. In our studio we can hear the frogs! The river was running here in town and at Finke and Ntaria. Families go down, everyone, it’s so exciting to see water running, water flowing, we all go!’ ‘Kwatye’ means ‘water’ in Central Arrernte language, and Town Camp Artists submitted works inspired by these rains that fell all across the Central Desert. Paintings depicting cowboys mustering cattle in the rain, Water Dreaming narratives and memories of waterhole swimming all make up the works of the exhibition which, for obvious reasons, has not gone ahead. It is available to view online through the Town Camp Artists website.
‘We are all from different places – Coniston, Laramba, Ntaria, Papunya, Titjikala, Utju,’ says Grace. ‘We are from different places all over this desert – but we all love the rain.’
View the ‘Kwatye Atnyeme, Kwatye Urewe’ – All The Rain Falling, All The Water Flowing’ exhibition online here. To purchase art, please contact Tangentyere Artists at [email protected]