In These HANDS - Mara nyangangka: artists from Ernabella Arts and ENGRAM - jewellery by Sabine Pagan. Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre. Until June 30.
This exhibition from Ernabella Arts provides an opportunity to see work from a very special Indigenous art centre in the Pukatja community at the Eastern end of the Musgrave Ranges in the far North West of South Australia. The centre was established in 1948 and has continued to flourish with exhibitions of artists’ work not only travelling in Australia but also abroad. In the early 1970s a special relationship was established with Sturt Gallery and Studios at Bowral that has continued to this day. Artists from Ernabella have travelled to the Sturt workshops to learn new skills and artists from Sturt have gone to Ernabella to mentor community artists. This exhibition celebrates 70 years of Ernabella Arts and the rich and productive relationship with Sturt Gallery.
Niningka Lewis, Ara Irititja - Olden Times, 2016 in In These Hands at Craft ACT.Photo: Photo courtesy of the artist and Maruku Arts.
A small collection of art in the exhibition honours the historical antecedents of this relationship when three Ernabella artists studied weaving at Sturt in 1971. Some of these woollen and tapestry weavings are on view. Contemporary work is more notable for the use of tjanpi (wild harvested grass). These tjanpi woven sculptures reflect the life of the community. Local people as well as dogs, sheep and donkeys are depicted in community panoramas of windmills, water tanks, trucks and carts (pulled by camels). These small works are endlessly engaging, inviting us to be part of their narrative. These narratives also inspire some of the decoration in ceramics and paintings.
In two pendant paintings, both titled Ara Irititja - Olden Times (nos.17, 18) by Niningka Munkuri Lewis, an untidy grouping of sheds, house and trucks of a modern settlement in one painting is more than matched by the more harmonious gathering of traditional humpies and fires in its companion.
The ceramics in stoneware are decorated with skill using the sgraffito technique of scratching back into layers of slip and into the clay of the pot. Glaze is used with restraint to enhance the designs. The classic ceramic forms of vessels with full bellies and small necks provide a sympathetic form for the beautiful designs that gently encase their surfaces. Some of these pots are made by the artists themselves and others by other potters. Narratives from the dreamtime and the natural world provide a rich fund of imagery that illuminates these works with a strong sense of identity and country.
Among the impressive line-up of ceramics there are many works that are outstanding. The designs of Derek Jungarrayi Thompson are beautifully conceived and executed. In particular the Wanampi -Watersnakes imagery where the body of the snake wraps sinuously around the pot - its scales picked out in glaze - is a wonderful design achieving a balance between decorative patterning and verisimilitude to nature. The elegant simplicity of two pots by Thomas llytjari Tjilya with their regular geometric marks (Ngayuku Walka no. 9 and no.33) contrasts with the fecundity of the decorative patterns in works handled so skilfully by Lynette Lewis and Alison Milyika Carroll. In another blue and white ceramic (Kampurara - Bush Tomatoes no. 10) by Elizabeth Dunn the tomato vine slides its tendrils to encase the form of the pot in joyful fecundity.
In the adjoining gallery space is the work of Sabine Pagan. Pagan is a Swiss-born and educated artist now living in Canberra. She is both a designer and academic who has studied the cross-disciplinary concepts between contemporary architecture and jewellery practice.
Rings, brooches and medallions are the focus of her solo exhibition. These objects are supported, as is becoming a common practice, by photographic images and video.
ENGRAM (the name of the exhibition) is “a hypothetical permanent change in the brain accounting for the existence of memory; a memory trace” (Catalogue note). The artist writes that she examines the memories of places and strives to bring them to life through the choice of her materials. Another consideration of the artist is the relation of the ring to the finger and hand. Most of the rings in the exhibition are asymmetrical with square sides enclosing silver circles for ease of wearing. The square ring prevents the ring turning around on the finger but it also provides a platform on which Pagan constructs her sculptural components like the building units of contemporary architecture.
The rings are made from industrial materials as well as brass, silver and anodised aluminium. Their asymmetrical forms are carefully balanced although parts of the rings can seem fluid enough to glide across the fingers at random. Their authenticity and authority as objects (indeed as small sculptures) come from the skilled precision of their construction with beautifully finished surfaces and detailing.
The collection of seven small wall pieces (no.16) is reminiscent of engraved and worked commemorative medallions. However, the images are abstracted designs of seascapes worked over the surface of the metal so that they make barely perceptible patterns on their dark intense surfaces.