The Art Gallery of South Australia’s (AGSA) annual Tarnanthi festival will launch its first international showing with works by artists from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in remote South Australia.

Touring in France from October 16, Kulata Tjuta (Many Spears) is a major exhibition of new works by 34 artists showcasing paintings, photographs and an installation of spears in wood and cast bronze.

Presented in collaboration with the APY Art Centre Collective, the exhibition will occupy an entire floor of the Musée des Beaux Arts in Rennes, the capital region of Brittany.

Tarnanthi curator and proud Barkandji artist, Nici Cumpston, said Kulata Tjuta presents a unique opportunity for European audiences to experience the creative genius of Anangu culture.

“They’ll get to meet the artists through the portraits, they’ll get to read the words on the wall that relate directly to the painting that have been written in the first person,” said Cumpston.

“It gives people an opportunity to see and be introduced to the art of artists from South Australia from the APY Lands.”

“And just having that opportunity for people to become aware of who artists are from this region is definitely going to provide opportunities into the future.”

Each of the paintings are about celebrating Tjukurpa (art and culture) and make reference to cultural maintenance initiative, Kulata Tjuta Project, in which senior Anangu artists and leaders share skills and cultural knowledge with younger generations.

“The paintings are all about ancestral creation stories for each of the artists … Some paintings are referencing the Kulata Tjuta Project, which has been about cultural maintenance for the men in communities to engage with the younger men who work with them to learn the practice of spear-making,” said Cumpston.

“There are also paintings by women artists that are sharing important stories of connections to place and connections to each other. There are similar stories painted by different people, but each person brings their perspective to that story.”

Anangu artist Mick Wikilyiri said celebrating Tjukurpa keeps it “alive and strong and protected for future generations”.

“Each of these paintings created by artists across the APY Lands is a celebration of Tjukurpa,” said Wikilyiri.

Kulata Tjuta began as a small project involving five men in Amata and has grown to include over 100 Anangu men across the APY Lands.

The exhibition was co-curated with the 34 artists themselves. The artists overcame challenges presented by the pandemic and pulled together entirely original works over the course of a few months.

“Initially, we were going to take a different body of work over to the Musée de Beaux Arts in Rennes … [but] we weren’t able to travel to install the major installation of the Kulata Tjuta, which was over 600 of the hand carved spears,” said Cumpston.

“Because we couldn’t travel to do that, we went back to the artists and said, ‘Okay, what can we do?’ Everybody was really enthusiastic and really positive and rallied around it. Across the art centres, the artists managed to create this incredible body of work.”

Anwar Young, Dickie Marshall, Stanley Young, Brenden Raymond, some of the leaders of the Kulata Tjuta Project in Amata, APY Lands, South Australia. Photo by Rohan Thomson, courtesy of the artists and APY Art Centre Collective.

As part of the exhibition, Cumpston and the artists involved have put together a 200-page catalogue featuring the artworks and artist biographies which will be available for purchase on the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) website in the near future.

The exhibition will open the same day as the annual Tarnanthi celebrations in Adelaide at AGSA, titled Open Hands.

Held from October 16 until January 31, Open Hands highlights how the creativity of First Nations women artists forms a vital cultural link in sharing knowledge across generations.

The launch will be streamed here: https://fb.me/e/cMLv776ki.

By Grace Crivellaro