The stories of over 1,000 First Nations people will hang in the halls of the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) in celebration of the Tarnanthi Festival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art 2019.

Tarnanthi is a celebration of the stories that run through the fabric of Australia’s national identity, that aims to also weave together a community of First Nations artists.

Tarnanthi Artistic Director, Nici Cumpston said the event is a space for connection and creation.

“Tarnanthi is a Kaurna word meaning the first light of day or first sign of a seed sprouting – we worked hard with Elders to come up with a name that encompassed all we were trying to do,” Ms Cumpston said.

“This space is about providing new opportunities to artists and opportunities to be ambitious, to create relationships.”

Tarnanthi hosts artists aged 15 to 81 who create paintings, photographs, prints, carvings, sculptures, moving images and animations, works on paper, textiles and performance.

Ms Cumpston said this year the exhibition is hosting more and more styles of work.

“The artists are working right across mediums, to help get their stories across in different ways,” she said.

Tarnanthi is an opportunity for artists to exhibit deep and personal stories in a popular and professional space.

“First Nations artists today are contemporary artists who are working at a high level. Their stories are deep and rich. Some come from ancestral knowledge, but they are working and presenting that information in a contemporary way,” Ms Cumpston said.

The festival offers the public a chance to gain an understanding of different cultures that live within different First Nation communities across the country.

“The work is original, strong, and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Through [this] exhibition people can gain an understanding of culture, it provides a way in, giving them some understanding and information,” Ms Cumpston said.

Over 300 of the artists exhibited are being welcomed to Adelaide to celebrate the opening weekend of Tarnanthi.

The celebrations will begin on the evening of October 17 and will host special guest Yolngu artist and ceremonial leader of the Madarrpa clan, Djambawa Marawili AM, Yolngu artist and Young Australian of the Year Baker Boy and performances by Tiwi Island artists from northeast Arnhem Land.

The weekend will also include an opportunity for the public to purchase art at the Tarnanthi Art Fair at the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. Proceeds from sales go directly back to the art centres and artists who create the works.

Tarnanthi is supported by the Government of South Australia and BHP.

BHP’s Asset President – Olympic Dam, Laura Tyler said the company’s partnership with AGSA through Tarnanthi is a major priority.

“It’s an ongoing, meaningful relationship of which we are enormously proud. We are committed to building a foundation of social investment, cultural sustainability and economic empowerment, that will directly and lastingly benefit Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Ms Tyler said.

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By Rachael Knowles