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Four Remarkable Projects Building Indigenous Culture

Jun 06, 2014

Image: Bart Willoughby, Tyrone Sheather, Hector Burton, Dave Arden. Credit: Caroline McCredie. Copyright: Australia Council for the Arts.


Four outstanding artists have been honoured at the Australia Council’s National Indigenous Arts Awards held recently at the Sydney Opera House.  While the artists hail from across Australia, pursue different art forms and range in ages from 23 to late 80s, each of their works showcase another perspective of Indigenous culture.

Artist and cultural elder Hector Tjupura Burton from Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands of Central Australia received the prestigious Red Ochre Award for his outstanding contribution and lifetime achievement to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts.

Mr Burton will use the $50,000 prize to buy a new car so he can travel to remote areas to teach young men his traditional painting, spear-making and stories.  A curator of many such projects, Mr Burton has been vital to the recent success of the nearby Tjala Arts Centre.

One such work featured in the Art Gallery of SA’s Adelaide Biennial Dark Heart – a striking installation of spears hanging like frozen rain from the ceiling.

Remarkably, Mr Burton has been painting for barely a decade.  His large powerful canvases capture the Creation Time story of the caterpillars, the Anumara.  Some of these works are on show at the Australia Council’s Sydney office.

‘We are teaching our young men through the painting of our stories, our own dreaming, and they are learning what it was like in the old days when we would all sit down and tell stories,’ said Mr Burton through a translator.

‘Now we are telling our stories in paintings so they can understand and keep our culture strong.’

Tyrone Sheather may be just 23 but his multimedia art provides a contemporary perspective on the stories of his Gumbaynggirr country in northern NSW, and those of his great-grandfather.  At 17 he made his first film entirely in Gumbaynggirr language and recently held a photographic exhibition in Bellingen, NSW.

Winner of the Dreaming Award, Tyrone will use his $20,000 prize to create an installation for next year’s Dark Mofo, the winter solstice festival at MONA in Hobart.

Entitled Giidanyba, it will feature seven two-metre tall glowing humanoid sculptures, radiating light and music, which respond to the movement of the audience.

The work is inspired by a Gumbaynggirr story, where sacred beings descend from the sky to impart knowledge at initiation.

‘The line of my family has been of a storyteller,’ Tyrone said.  ‘My great-grandfather and the ones before him, too.’

Five generations of the Arden family is the inspiration for Dave Arden’s musical and performance project. The Melbourne guitarist and singer received one of two $90,000 fellowships, which this year went to musicians.

Dave will develop and tour a show of original songs, stories and projections charting the roots of his family from the Simpson to the Western deserts, from Ireland to Germany. He’s calling it The Dave Arden Kokatha/Gunditjmara Songman and Storyteller Showcase.

Fellow Melbourne musician and Dave’s one-time teacher, Bart Willoughby received the other $90,000 fellowship.  Bart founded the bands No Fixed Address and Mixed Relations.  His last project saw him play the Melbourne Town Hall organ, which inspired his album, We Still Live On.

For his fellowship, Bart will perform concerts across cities and regional Australia, featuring him playing the organ in collaboration with other musicians and presenters.  Whether on piano, drums or his percussive box, the woodskin, Bart, with a nod to Bob Marley, has fashioned a distinctive mix of reggae and Indigenous music.

Now, on the organ, he’s pushing the boundaries again on an instrument considered an icon of European culture and religion.