Clients and visitors at the gallery on Sunday were treated to a special insight into the lives, culture and stories of Tjala's artists. The artists gave generously of their time and knowledge, taking us on a wonderful journey through their beautiful country.
Sisters Mary Pan and Iluwanti Ken lead the talks by explaining their collaborative painting. This is a work of personal and cultural significance as this is the country of their birth and heritage. It is also where, as girls, they would clean out rock holes in preparation for the rains. They pointed out that the Anangu (people) and animals go about hunting in the same way and that they eat similar foods; Anangu learn hunting skills by observing the animals. They still take the young children to these areas to teach them the traditional ways of living in the bush.
Willy Kaika gave us a wonderful talk on the work of his older brother, Hector Burton, which represents the sacred caterpillar story, “Anumara” that is Burton's birth right. Kaika stressed the importance of these stories to Anangu life, past and present, and that the work was full of symbols that represented various aspects of the story - not all of which can be told publicly.
Kaika also spoke about the paintings and tjanpi installation in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s current Heartland exhibition. The men’s painting and punu (wood) project contributions were of special significance to Kaika and the senior men at Amata. The subject matter deals with the production of spears and spear throwers. He went into detail about how they are made, from straightening the heated branches over the knee, to securing the spear heads to the shaft with spinifex resin and kangaroo sinews. The extraction of the spinifex resin is a major process in itself: it involves beating the grass to force the resin from within, which is then collected and used as a glue. Throughout the duration of the Heartland project, the senior men were working with the younger men to teach them these traditional skills. Kaika is highly regarded for his wood carving skills, and having seen one of his spears first-hand, the praise is fully justified.
While on the subject of Heartland, Kaika’s wife, Nyurapaya Kaika-Burton spoke about the tjanpi sculptures (spinifex grass). Tjanpi is not a traditional craft of the Anangu, but she was excited that new media is giving artists access to different ways of expressing themselves. The collection and handling of spinifex is a skill in itself, thanks to its prickly nature. The women use their heels to dig around the base of the spinifex grass clumps to loosen it, then they lift the whole plant from the ground. It then becomes easier to handle, but caution is advised!
We would like to thank Iluwanti Ken, Mary Pan, Willy Kaika and Nyurapaya Kaika-Burton, Manager Skye O’Meara, plus the other exhibiting Tjala artists who couldn’t be with us for their visit and superb art. A big thanks also to Bill Edwards for interpreting the artists’ talks. It was a truly memorable afternoon!