In Kaurna language, tarnanthi means “the first emergence of light at the beginning of day, or the first start to the seed sprouting”. Tarnanthi, Adelaide’s contemporary Aboriginal art festival, is an annual event held across multiple venues, which aims to capture that sentiment.
“For us it’s about new beginnings, providing new opportunities for artists,” says Nici Cumpston, artistic director of Tarnanthi and curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
The festival’s annual event, the Tarnanthi Art Fair, will be held from October 26 to 28 at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, on Grenfell Street in the Adelaide CBD. The fair will showcase more than 200 Aboriginal artists from 40 art centres around Australia, so expect to see a massive range of disciplines including photography, bark painting, watercolour, weaving, sculpture, fabric and jewellery. Pieces, from emerging and established artists, range between $50 and $5000, and the money goes straight back into communities. “The art centres at the Tarnanthi Art Fair are all Aboriginal-owned and managed, so it’s directly benefiting each of the artists who work in these art centres,” says Cumpston.
The fair is also a unique opportunity for visitors to meet and speak with makers and ethically purchase one-of-a-kind works. Cumpston, a descendant of Darling River Barkindji people, knows the intrinsic value of art in the history and future of Australia’s Indigenous cultures.
“For us as Aboriginal people, it’s one really clear way for us to share our cultural stories and to have a way to express ourselves creatively – something that’s been embedded within our culture forever,” says Cumpston. “It gives us a chance to talk about who we are and share those deep ancestral connections that we have with place and each other.”
This year Tarnanthi features bark painter John Mawurndjul. A survey of the artist’s work, I am the old and the new, will open at the Art Gallery of South Australia on October 26, coinciding with the fair. “As you enter the bilingual exhibition, you have text in Kuninjku and then English,” says Cumpston. “The wall texts are in the voice of the artist telling us about each of the different locations he’s painted in the group of paintings.”
Cumpston says the emphasis of this year’s fair is to showcase the sheer diversity of Aboriginal art in Australia. “It’s a way for us to show the general public the diversity of practice and help break down the stereotypes of what some people think Aboriginal art is,” she says.
“By showing that cross-section of work and people from different places with different experiences, and of course their own language groups, [we experience] all of their cultural stories.”
The Tarnanthi Art Fair is on October 26 to 28, 2018 at 253 Grenfell Street Adelaide. Entry is free. More details.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with the Art Gallery of South Australia.