Reviving Kulumindini Arts: ‘If those old people could do it, we can too’

Date: Jun 11, 2021

Publication Type: Blog

Subject: Art

Kulumindini Arts Centre co-ordinator Elaine Sandy says that her art centre building is “falling apart.”

Welcome to Kulumindini Arts Centre!

“This building is very old … it was originally the Gurungu Council office way back then, but you can see by the look of it that it is falling apart.”

What Elaine Sandy and her fellow artists would really like to see is a new arts centre built in the centre of the Elliott township.

“That would be very good, we’d have access to visitors and to tourists. That is what we’ve been asking for the last couple of years and still there is no answer.”

Elaine Sandy, co-ordinator of the Kulumindini Arts Centre.

Mudburra Arts was established in the late 1980s as an initiative of the Open College and with funding from the Federal government. The first Mudburra Arts exhibition was at the Desert Harmony festival in Tennant Creek in 1989 and in April the next year Mudburra Arts held a blockbuster exhibition - called Ngurra Mala - at Karen Brown’s Shades of Ochre Gallery in Darwin.

The NT News carried a front page report on the show, saying that it “tapped the very pulse of the Elliott people, producing a fresh vision of this hitherto regarded desolate environment, by way of vibrant expression, rich imagery and passionate mood”.

Karen Brown says that Ngurra Mala was a revelation and a revolution. 

“The title of the exhibition – Ngurra Mala – reflects the artists’ unwavering recognition of their knowledge and identification of significant Dreamings and landscapes. The vibrancy of the art works exhibited in Darwin were a result of the exploration of a new palette of blues, yellows and reds that enhanced and enriched the long-held inspiration for art being the land.

“In 1991 and 1992 I travelled with Mudburra artists Lady Dixon Nimarra and Lizzie Dixon to major exhibitions in Grenoble and Lyon in France,” said Ms. Brown.

Ngurra Mala included works and craft items by Lady Dixon Nimarra, her daughter Lizzie Dixon, Harry Jones Jalyirri, Marjorie Jones Nimarra, Beryl Raymond Nalyirri and Daisy Nuggett Nalyirri.

Land Rights News spoke to Lady Dixon Nimarra’s daughter, Janey Dixon, at Marlinja last month. She told us how her mother translated her knowledge and love of country onto canvas.

“We used to sit down and paint with her and she was always telling us about her painting, it was always about bush tucker in the wet season. Bush medicines. They were only from around here at Marlinja. The bush medicines, she would go and collect them around here with us.”

An artwork by Elaine Sandy.

But without continued support and resources, Mudburra Arts wasn’t able to sustain that early promise. Now Elaine Sandy and the artists of Kulumindini want to get the local artists back on track.

They want the arts centre to again be “a stronghold for this place [Kulumindini] and for Mudburra arts and culture.”

“The cultural integrity of everything we make is very important and has been passed on by artists who are family. The art flows from our culture. If we keep our culture strong the art will follow,” said Ms Sandy.

Much of the early art produced at Kulumindini over the years is now in private homes and galleries far way. Elaine Sandy believes it is important for that work to come back home so local artists can see what the earlier generations did. 

“It is really important that local people get to see the art that was made here before, it should come back here so local people can see it and be inspired by it. Every one of us, all the family members, we’ve got to be able to see that artworks that people made before. “

Janey Dixon agrees.

“It would be a good idea to bring photos and the artworks back to the community. Some of the ladies still want to do painting. Those photos that will bring their memories, you know, and they can say ‘if those old people could do it, then we can too’.”