Ikuntji Art Centre, Haasts Bluff - Art Collector

Issue 46, October - December 2008

A recent visit to Haasts Bluff by art critic Sasha Grishin revealed an art centre currently undergoing a period of brilliant revival.

Ikuntji, formerly known as Haasts Bluff, is a small Aboriginal community located about four hours drive or 230 km west of Alice Springs. It nestles within the spectacular West MacDonnell Ranges, which change dramatically in colour with the passing times of day. The explorer Ernest Giles in 1872 named the mountain Haasts Bluff, after the New Zealand geologist Dr Haast. From then on commenced an unhappy association with Europeans, punctuated with such incidents as the massacre of 1928 at Coniston Station, where according to some estimates, over a hundred men, women and children were shot by police and stockmen in reprisal for the death of a dingo trapper. A permanent camp was established near Haasts Bluff in 1935 with the missionary station providing rations. Some peoples came to Haasts Bluff in search of a regular supply of food and water others were forced here under the government program of assimilation where Warlpiri, Pintupi, Luritja, Anmatyerr, Pitjantjatjara, Kukatja, Arrernte and other peoples were forced to live away from their traditional country and sacred sites.

Today, Haasts Bluff houses between forty and sixty permanent residents, but the population swells when families come in from the surrounding outstations. Since the Federal Government’s intervention program, some of the residents have moved into Alice Springs.

The small community is also home to the Ikuntji Art Centre which was established in 1992 and incorporated in 2007. This arts centre, originally known as the Ikuntji Women’s Centre, has served as home to a number of distinguished artists including Marlee Naparrula, Narputta Nangala, Daisy Napaltjarri Jugadai, Alice Nampitjinpa, Eunice Napanangka Jack, Mitjili Naparrula and Long Tom Tjapanangka.

Until very recently at Ikuntji, most of the artists were women and many were quite senior in age. In the past couple of years there has been a dramatic change in the age and demography of the artists and a number of quite young, brilliant men have started to paint seriously and are receiving considerable recognition. The most interesting of these young painting men are four remarkable artists – Justin Tjungurrayi Corby, Billy Pareoultja Tjungarrayi, Joseph Tjangala Zimran and Desmond Impu Tjapaltjarri. Each paints in a distinctive style, which is in contrast to what could be termed a “house style” which sometimes occurs in Aboriginal art communities.

Justin Tjungurrayi Corby only started to paint in 2006 and now, at the age of 26, appears as an accomplished artist with an established record of exhibitions. He is the son of the famous Papunya artist, Lindsay Corby Tjapaltjarri. Although Justin Corby inherited Lindsay Corby’s stories, stylistically he has branched out on his own and has created his own style with bold, clearly articulated forms and vibrant colours. There is a simplified geometry in his mark making, a rhythmic compositional arrangement and an intuitive colour sense.

Billy Pareoultja Tjungarrayi is 36 years old and belongs to a most illustrious artistic ancestry – on his father’s side, his grandfather’s brother was Albert Namatjira. A creative and deliberate artist, he had dramatically reinvented the story of Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay), which he inherited from Gideon Tjupurrula Jack who passed away in 1998. Joseph Tjangala Zimran, born 1981, and Desmond Impu Tjapaltjarri, born 1973, are equally spectacular and original emerging artists.

Remote Aboriginal art communities of the Western Desert go through periods of vigorous activity, as well as periods of stagnant decline. Ikuntji, under its young advisory team of Terry Larkin and Rachelle Burke, is presently experiencing a period of brilliant revival.

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