Maningrida Arts & Culture - Art Collector

Issue 52, April - June 2010

Maningrida Arts & Culture is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most successful art centres, with artists who consistently dominate the awards circuit, reports Maurice O’Riordan.

The Maningrida Arts and Culture centre, located in Maningrida in Central Arnhem Land, has long distinguished itself as a hub of diverse and affordable artistic production. The launch of a separate Maningrida retail outlet in downtown Darwin in 2004 signalled the extent of this success. Six years later it remains the only Top End Aboriginal art centre with its own capital city gallery presence.
Situated on the Arnhem Land coast about 400 km east of Darwin

In the traditional lands of the Kunibidji people, the Maningrida township originated as a ration depot just after World War II; the whole Arnhem Land region had been significantly opened up owing to its mobilisation during this war. By 1957, Maningrida became an official welfare settlement and Aboriginal groups in the area were encouraged to move into the town rather than to Darwin. Today the township services over 30 outstations – reflecting the post-1970s movement of Aboriginal groups back to their traditional lands – and the community of around 2,600 people is recognised, per capita, as one of the world’s most linguistically diverse, with over 15 spoken languages.

This linguistic diversity crosses over into artistic practice. Maningrida is home to a treasure-trove of artists who work in wide-ranging media from sculpture in fibre, paperbark, cast metal and wood, to printmaking and painting.

There are the well-known Rembarrnga artists from southern Arnhem Land, such as the late Brian Nyinawanga (1937-2008) and Lena Yarinkura, whose sculptural installations and collaborations with her husband, Bob Burruwal, continue to marvel and challenge audiences.

There are the towering Mimih and Yawkyawk sculptures by Owen Yalandja, last seen to great effect in the National Gallery of Australia’s internationally touring Culture Warriors, the national Indigenous art triennial exhibition curated by Brenda L Croft. This exhibition also presented the intricate panel-form woven sculptures of Anniebell Marrangamarrnga, the 2009 Togart Award winner, with her own distinctive interpretations of Yawkyawk mythology.
Then there are the fine line paintings on bark and paper by Samuel Namunjdja and Ivan Namirrkki, who identify with the Kuninjku people to the west of Maningrida and carry on the name and skilful iconography of their father, the late Peter Marralwanga (c1917-1987).

There is also the strong field of emerging artists such as Sylvia Campion, who works in sculpture, and Bronwyn Kelly and Emmanuel Wurrkidj, both painters. Kelly confirmed her status as rising talent with her first solo exhibition in 2009 at Melbourne’s Alison Kelly Gallery, while Wurrkidj looks likewise set to build on his promise with a forthcoming debut solo show at Birrung Galleries in Sydney this year.

No coverage of Maningrida arts is possible without mention of Kuninjku painter John Mawurndjul who, aged 58, is now one of its senior artists. His litany of accolades includes winning the Clemenger Contemporary Art Prize, twice winning the bark painting category of the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, and last year winning the Melbourne Art Foundation’s Artist Award. Mawurndjul was also honoured with a retrospective of his work in 2005 at the Musee Jean Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland, notably appearing alongside retrospectives for René Magritte and Willem de Kooning. Mawurndjul is also credited as leading a new school of Kuninjku painting, which includes his abovementioned nephew, Emmanuel Wurrkidj, and his wife, Kay Lindjuwanga, herself a NATSIAA bark painting award winner in 2004.

In fact, via the NATSIAA’s barometer of success, Maningrida fares exceptionally well. In last year’s awards it was the most represented arts centre, accounting for almost 10 per cent of the show’s artists with an impressive nine finalists: Emmanuel Wurrkidj, John Bulunbulun, Samuel Namunjdja, Crusoe Kurddal, Djon Djorlom, Irenie Ngalinba, Marina Murdilnga, Owen Yalandja and Samson Bonson.

Group exhibitions of work by Maningrida artists will be exhibited at Hogarth Galleries in Sydney until 15 April 2010, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi in Melbourne until 1 May 2010, and at Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London from 9 June 2010. Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi will also be holding a solo exhibition of John Mawurndjul’s work from 4 May to 5 June 2010. Sonia Namarnyilk and Djon Djorlom will exhibit at Hogarth Galleries from 5 to 26 June 2010. Emmanuel Wurrkidj will exhibit with Birrung Gallereis in Sydney in June, dates to be confirmed.

Ethically sourced Indigenous art can be purchased from many outlets across Australia. One way to be certain a work for your collection has been ethically sourced is if it is purchased from artist-owned, community-based art centres, where one exists for the region, or from galleries that source the work from these centres, where they exist.

Share this page: