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How great thou art

By Graham Ring - posted Wednesday, 6 September 2006

I dunno much about art, but I know what I like. And I like it when Indigenous Australians receive recognition right across the globe for expressions of their culture - traditional and modern.

I like it even more when an Indigenous painting sells for a squillion dollars in New York and a goodly chunk of the loot actually finds its way back to the community from which the work originated.

In the past, this hasn’t always been the case, but Federal Arts Minister Rod Kemp has recently made a commitment to put the kybosh on the carpetbaggers. On August 15, Minister Kemp announced the formation of a Senate Committee of Inquiry into the Indigenous “visual arts sector”.


The committee, which will report back to Parliament in February 2007, has been asked to make recommendations designed to address “unscrupulous and unethical conduct that occurs in the sector”.

This is an encouraging sign from the government. Once they have sorted out the irregularities of Indigenous art dealing they might care to have a crack at the equally pressing problems in Indigenous health, housing, education and employment.

Ironically, it’s often the much-maligned remote communities that produce artists capable of painting works that sell for plenty all around the world. If they’re not careful, they’ll lose their “non-viable” status, and forfeit the one-way trip to who-knows-where that Amanda Vanstone had planned for them.

But let’s jettison these churlish politics momentarily and celebrate Luritja-Walpiri woman Ngoia Napaltjarri Pollard - winner of the 2006 Telstra Art Award (pdf 1.66MB) for her work entitled Swamps west of Nyirripi.

This is her father’s country, sacred Walpiri land associated with the stories of the watersnake.

Prior to 2006, the winning work was automatically acquired by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. However a change in policy this year means that the winner will be entitled to sell the work, providing opportunity for further financial benefit.


Telstra deserve a pat on their corporate back for getting behind this event. They have been principal sponsors of these awards since 1992 and are committed to continuing in this capacity.

To the sponsor’s credit, there is no attempt to shy away from the political realities of Aboriginal Australia. The prize for the “works on paper” award went to a confronting piece from Queensland artist Judy Watson, entitled A preponderance of Aboriginal blood (pdf 1.66MB).

Watson, who has works displayed at the prestigious Musée du quai Branly in Paris, describes herself as “Indigenous and non-Indigenous”. The title of her work is taken from a piece of bureaucratise which was employed to deny her grandmother the right to vote.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times Issue 112 on August 24, 2006.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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