Last Chance: Tarnanthi, Art Gallery of South Australia



As the sun rises over Mt Lofty, it casts its light over the planes of Adelaide, the lands of the Kaurna people, its traditional owners. Tarnanthi (pronounced tar-nan-dee) is the Kaurna word describing the coming of new beginnings, “to rise, come forth, spring up or appear”, like the first light of day. This, in turn, is a universal symbol for starting afresh, beginning again.

The purpose of Tarnanthi is to bring together artists from across Australia, to shed new light, new perspectives, and new opportunities for indigenous art, both for artists and audiences. Showcasing over 300 artists from all over the country, representing a diverse mix of works in different medium and materials, the festival presents new opportunities for both artists and audiences to embrace the rich cultures that stem from this beautiful land. While the greater festival concluded on the 18th of October 2016, at the Art Gallery of South Australia, the exhibition will continue until the 17th of January. Covering two floors and multiple exhibition spaces, the artworks are diverse not only in medium but also in subject matter.

With such a plethora of amazing artwork at our fingertips, it is extremely hard to distinguish highlights of the exhibition. However, one of the works that caught my eye was Yhonnie Scarce’s suspended glass installation, Raining Thunder Poison, which resembles a nuclear cloud, a reimagined reminder of the nuclear bomb testing conducted at Maralinga in northern South Australia between 1953 and 1963. What initially appear to be tear-drop shaped glass bulbs, turn out to be 2000 individually blown glass bush yams, suspended from fishing line. The powerful piece catches the light, twinkling like a grand chandelier. Yet behind the beauty is a darker reality.

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In another gallery, grand collaborative canvases by Spinifex artists paint vibrant tales of identity and culture, depicted through intricate patterns of dots and natural linear motions of the paintbrush. The complex iconography comes together to represent the artists’ lives and presence within their beautiful desert surroundings. Accompanying photographs of the artists provided by Stephen Oxbury further sensitively acquaints the viewer with the people behind the paintbrush.

Upstairs, presents Yvonne Koolmatrie’s woven sculptures reimagine traditional south-eastern weaving practices in an exhibition called Riverland. Over the last three decades she has used traditional weaving practices to sculpt eel and yabby traps, lyrical story mats, modern forms such as hot hair balloons and planes, and natural forms such animals and fish. The artist brings contemporary art practice and tradition together in a dynamic display that attests to her dedication to material and the robustness of Ngarrindjeri culture. I left the exhibition feeling uplifted. I felt like I’d gotten to know something about the livesand culture of the artists whose work is on display. I was impressed by the vibrant hues, intricate patterns and the complexity and beauty of some of the pieces.

Overall, I felt like Tarnanthi had achieved what it set out to do. That is, with a strong focus on the artists, it truly celebrates and supports both emerging and established indigenous artists by presenting their work in a new way to new and receptive audiences, and truly celebrates the agency of imagination. As the sun dips below the horizon, casting orange and pink hues over the city, we can feel satisfied that a new chapter for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander art and culture has begun. So, make the most of the few days left of this exciting exhibition, you won’t regret it.

-Josephine Boult

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