Bringing the stories of the desert to Sydney’s doorstep, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre’s new exhibit WALKA showcases artists from Maruku Arts Centre in Petermann, Northern Territory.

Exhibiting until December 7, WALKA hosts over 120 works from Maruka Arts. Established in 1985, the arts centre is owned and governed by Anangu artists from both Central and Western Desert Country; it is home to over 500 Anangu artists and serves 22 communities.

Maruka artists specialise in the creation of Punu (wood carvings), a practice which is central to the survival of Anangu culture and tradition. Punu carry designs that were later transferred to acrylic paintings.

Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre Curator and Exhibition Program Coordinator Carrie Kibbler noted the power of the carvings.

“It looks fantastic, it’s really vibrant and dynamic. It’s wonderful to showcase the work of artists who are from remote Indigenous communities to audiences in our region,” she said.

“It brings a whole new feel to the gallery because it is so sculptural. As soon as you enter the space to walk through the gallery you can smell the wood as it’s all been burnt … it really adds to the experience of the exhibition.”

WALKA is on at Hazelhurst until December 7. Photo supplied.

Featuring work from over 30 artists, WALKA includes paintings by senior lore man Sandy Willie, bowls and digging sticks made by Dianne Strangways and nocturnal paintings of perentie lizards by Reggie Uluru.

“Some of the pieces are actually traditional tools and implements, so we have spears and collecting bowls, along with women’s digging sticks. Sometimes we look at these objects and think of them almost like ethnographic pieces, but by putting them into a contemporary art space I think it really contextualises them,” said Kibbler.

“We see them as contemporary artworks. So, you’re looking not only at the function of the piece but at the beauty and aesthetic quality, craftmanship and skill that goes into making those pieces.”

WALKA continues a tradition of First Nations projects for the gallery, which held Nganampa Kililpil: Our Stars in 2016 featuring the work of APY Lands, Weapons for the Solider in 2018, and in 2019 work from Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) art centre in Mparntwe/Alice Springs.

Kibbler said Nganampa Kililpil was “such a positive experience for both the artists and our business” that the gallery decided to exhibit another First Nations exhibition the following year.

“Following on from that we are aiming to continue on with a program of projects that support First Nations artists from Aboriginal-owned art centres—particularly those that are remote.”

WALKA features art from Anangu artists. Photo supplied.

WALKA will be exhibited until December 7 with many of the artworks featured available for purchase.

By Rachael Knowles