Pitjantjatjara artist Yaritji Young’s entry in Australia’s most prestigious Indigenous art competition — the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Awards — tells the story of the honey ant or Tjala Tjukurpa.
“I paint the rock holes and landmarks of my country,” Young says. “The twisted lines and shapes are the tunnels and formations made by the tjala honey underneath the Mulga trees.”
Young will be among Australia’s top Indigenous artists who will travel from the far corners of Australia to Darwin for the announcement of this year’s awards winners this Friday evening.
She will travel from her home Amata in South Australia, about 720kms south of Uluru, a place that is inseparable from her work.
“My paintings are of the country: my father’s country, my grandmother’s country, the Tjala country,” she says. “I paint the Tjala Tjukurpa, the honey ant dreaming.”
The senior law woman and elder of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands learnt to paint from watching her grandparents, her parents and other family members. Her father is artist Mick Wikilyiri and her sisters Tjunkara Ken, Freda Brady, Maringka Tunkin and Sandra Ken are also all painters.
Young says her bright use of colour reflects her people and culture.
“Tjala artists are known for their bright paintings and strong colours,” she says. “We are known for being brave and adventurous, experimenting in new ways with colour, with drawing, with different mediums.”
The NATSIA awards will be something of a family event for Young — her grandsons are performing with Tjukurritja Dance in the opening and also at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair on the weekend.
The awards ceremony at the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory is free and open to the public and will be hosted by actor Miranda Tapsell and writer and actor Nakkiah Lui.
A $50,000 award will go to the artist whose work is judged the most outstanding and winners will also be announced in seven categories from bark painting to general painting and multimedia. A total of $80,000 in prize money will be awarded.
There will be performances from Baker Boy, the Northern Territory Dance Company, Muggerah Dancers and Mau Power.
The finalists’ works will go on show at MAGNT from August 11 to November 25.