Tarnanthi, the Art Gallery of South Australia’s festival of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, returns in October 2023. Acclaimed as Australia’s leading First Nations art festival, the Tarnanthi 2023 program comprises exhibitions at AGSA; a state-wide festival with exhibitions and accompanying events across 27 venues; and the Tarnanthi Art Fair, an in-person and online event in 2023.
Tarnanthi’s Artistic Director, Barkandji curator Nici Cumpston OAM, says, ‘Tarnanthi fosters opportunities for First Nations artists at all stages of their careers, opening up new pathways for creative talents. Artists from across the country have been making new works that highlight the dynamism and diversity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and cultures today. It is a privilege to share their voices through Tarnanthi and to bring this world-class art experience with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art to audiences again in 2023.’
The word ‘tarnanthi’ (pronounced TAR-nan-dee) comes from the language of the Kaurna people, the traditional owners of the Adelaide Plains. It means to spring forth or appear – like the sun and the first emergence of light. Tarnanthi presents the dynamism of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art from across the country and provides an energised platform for artists to share important stories. Since its inception in 2015, Tarnanthi has presented the work of more than 6000 First Nations artists while more than 1.6 million people have attended Tarnanthi exhibitions and events.
Tarnanthi 2023 program highlight
The first-ever survey exhibition of Western Aranda artist Vincent Namatjira will open on October 20 as a highlight of this year’s Tarnanthi festival. With works that offer a wry look at the politics of history, power, and leadership from Namatjira’s signature contemporary Aboriginal perspective, Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour will premiere at AGSA, featuring new paintings by the celebrated satirical portraitist, works never before on public display and rarely seen works from public and private collections across the country. Vincent Namatjira has also selected works from the Gallery’s collection by his great-grandfather Albert Namatjira, whom he cites as one of his greatest inspirations. Following Tarnanthi 2023, Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour will travel to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra in 2024.
Vincent Namatjira said, “I believe in the power of art, the power of the paintbrush. I know that art can change lives – it changed mine – and I hope that art can change the world too. Painting is in my blood – my great-grandfather Albert Namatjira changed the face of art in Australia. I feel his influence when I paint, especially when I paint our Country. The connection runs deep and it has shaped who I am as an artist. I’m proud to be continuing the Namatjira legacy.”
Featuring more than 1500 artists
Tarnanthi 2023 program features more than 1500 artists from across the continent, from as far north as Arnhem Land to the heart of the Great Victoria Desert and beyond. Working diversely in painting, photography, weaving, carving, sculpture, moving image, works on paper and textiles, the artists express traditional cultural knowledge through their contemporary works of art.
At AGSA, Tarnanthi features more than 100 artists including independent artists and those working in Aboriginal owned art centres. One of the highlights, Kala kunbolk (Colour Country) will feature exquisite woven baskets by the Kunwinjku women of Gunbalanya in west Arnhem Land. They are exploring the profound world of fibre art through traditional weaving practice that can be traced back thousands of years. In their culture, colour is life, and brightness and vibrancy are highly valued. Drawing particular attention to the natural variations of dye, each of the baskets has been created using a single colour of dyed pandanus. Intricate knowledge of plants enables the intensity of each dye colour to be achieved, through sourcing the plants only at particular times of the year. The whole process has been mapped on a large-scale hand-painted banner created by one of the younger artists, which will be presented alongside the baskets, weaving together country, colour, and culture.
From the heart of Tarnanthi at AGSA, the festival stretches across South Australia with 27 partner venues presenting more than 36 exhibitions and events for Tarnanthi, from Port Pirie to Port Adelaide.
Saltbush Country, through a partnership between Country Arts SA and AGSA, brings together works by seven First Nations artists from regional South Australia, curated by Wangkanurra artist and curator Marika Davies. Each artist is different, and their works are different, but they all connect in ways that could easily be overlooked. The artists live and work in their communities and have strong connections to where they are from, what has happened in our shared history and what is affecting First Nations people now. The outcomes reflect deeply personal stories through weaving, embroidery, painting and the revival of traditional making practices using contemporary materials. Saltbush Country will open in Port Pirie on 23 September, before travelling to Adelaide for a four-month exhibition season from 16 November.
As well as group and solo exhibitions, this year’s partner projects include a First Nations dance development opportunity with Australian Dance Theatre as well as opportunities for First Nations writers to engage with Tarnanthi exhibitions, involving Writers SA, the SA First Nations Writers Group and Our Words at the Adelaide Festival Centre. There are also projects that support arts in health, with children invited to make work that responds to the theme of ‘what matters to me’ at Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, while Jackie Saunders from Tutti Arts presents a solo exhibition of new works at the Royal Adelaide Hospital with support of The Hospital Research Foundation Group – Creative Health. Meanwhile, the newly formed Kaurna Women’s Art Collective share their collective strength to present Footprints, a showcase of textiles, moving image, portraits and text at Hart’s Mill in Yartapuulti (Port Adelaide).
Opportunity for learning and cultural exchange
Tarnanthi Artistic Director Nici Cumpston says, “The wide array of partner programs is a cornerstone of Tarnanthi. We want the festival to be as accessible as possible to the public and these events provide such a great opportunity for learning and cultural exchange for all ages right across the state.
“Partnerships such as these represent heartening developments for the future. Year after year, the number and diversity of potential project ideas for Tarnanthi continues to grow. Building sustainable partner relationships between artists and organisations ensures ongoing, trusted support for artists, giving their ideas time to mature and develop. Nurturing this creative energy strengthens culture, improves wellbeing, enriches communities and, through the shared experience of art, brings all of us closer together as we learn from and engage meaningfully with each other.”
One of Australia’s most loved and celebrated singer-songwriters, Arrernte/Gurindji man Dan Sultan and his band will kick off the opening weekend celebration of Tarnanthi. Sultan will open the free public event on AGSA’s North Terrace forecourt on the evening of Thursday 19 October, before audiences experience the Tarnanthi exhibition at AGSA alongside hundreds of artists from across the country, who will descend on Adelaide for the opening weekend.
Tarnanthi Art Fair
For the first time since 2020, the popular Tarnanthi Art Fair also returns in person, at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre – offering a unique opportunity to meet and learn from artists firsthand about the thousands of works of art available for sale. This year we will also be presenting a public program with Ku Arts and Ceduna Arts to enable the pubic to collectively weave a leafy sea dragon, from marine debris collected off the coast of South Australia. The Art Fair is also held online in 2023, with all proceeds from the in-person and online sales going directly to the artists and their communities. Since 2015, more than $6.6 million of art has been sold at the Tarnanthi Art Fair, with all proceeds going directly to the artists and their community-run art centres.
Senior Kaurna man Mickey Kumatpi O’Brien says, “we can be afraid of the water and not step into it, or we can know what’s in the water, and be more likely to live within it.
“Tarnanthi allows all to step into First Nations people and its culture and know we can all walk together, as we live the Voices of a millennium. This year is a Voice of Generations. Together, Voices of Culture does not divide, it is what we gain from Culture that makes our lives greater for it.”
At its heart, the Tarnanthi Festival is a series of free exhibitions, artist talks, performances, and events, held at AGSA and across the city and state, showcasing and celebrating contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.