Uwankara tjungu is Pitjantjatjara for “all in”, a rousing welcome that is written at the doorway to the APY Art Centre Collective’s new Adelaide gallery on Light Square.
After a stellar first year for the collective’s sister gallery in Sydney, APY Gallery Adelaide opened in May in the former Higher Ground space (before that it was ghost-themed theatre-restaurant Night Train).
The Anangu-run gallery and studio brings together 11 different collectives from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in remote north-west South Australia, including Ernabella Arts – Australia’s oldest Indigenous art centre.
“We’re challenging the longstanding commission structures that galleries work with,” says general manager Skye O’Meara. “So, of the retail price of each of the works in our galleries, 80 per cent is returned to the artist.”
Last year the Sydney branch made a return of $1.2 million dollars – a significant amount of money that went directly back into APY Lands communities. With more than 500 artists on the APY Lands, elders have led the initiative to create more opportunities for young and emerging artists.
The gallery also operates as a working and meeting space for members of the Anangu community visiting Adelaide for medical treatment or family support. “What starts as a family crisis or emergency can become catastrophic really quickly,” says O’Meara. “Having a space like this supports beautiful art-making, but it’s far more important than that, which is why the elders wanted it.
“Community-based art centres have historically been undervalued – they’ve been regarded as cute,” O’Meara continues. “There’s nothing cute about art centres – they’re enormously powerful and important vehicles at a community level.”
Art centres are one of the only sources of employment for APY people, providing an important boost for the community. “Art centres have a unique role in community in regard to crisis management and support for the most vulnerable individuals,” says O’Meara.
The Light Square space has been transformed into an airy gallery with an extensive studio out the back. Its walls are adorned with paintings in bold, bright colours and earthy pastel shades. There are dot paintings, wooden carvings and handpainted ceramics.
The collective presents its second exhibition, Tjintu Kuwaritja (A New Day), in late July – the first featuring works from the Adelaide studio, with art by Leah Brady, Margaret Richards, Yaritji Heffernan, Imiyari Adamson and the Tjalkuri Family.
When Broadsheet visits, gallery co-director Leah Brady is working on her fifth piece for the exhibition. A prolific artist, she paints with a striking palette of purple, red and orange – hues that are repeated throughout her works. And her favourite colour to work with? “Red,” says Brady, without hesitation.
“This is my story – our story,” Brady says as she scans the painting and touches a hand to her chest. “Tjukurpa – water snake, rainbow serpent.”
The rainbow serpent is a central tenet of Tjukurpa (known to some as the Dreaming), an Anangu word with many meanings that can centre around ideas of law, religion and morality. It is the basis of connection to country and living things.
A New Day launches on Thursday July 25 at the APY Gallery, and coincides with the Winter Reds APY Art Exhibition Launch at Bird in Hand winery in Woodside, where there’ll be a showing of work by young and emerging artists, plus weaving workshops and inma (a traditional dance ceremony).
“It’s taken a big and brave ambitious vision,” says O’Meara. “The sale of every work has a significant impact on the health and wellbeing for the individual and the family members. It’s an extraordinary story.”