More Australians than ever are engaging with First Nations arts, expressions of the world’s oldest living culture and storytelling that stretches back for millennia. There is a growing body of evidence about the critical role of culture as the foundation of First Nations peoples’ wellbeing, and of the benefits of First Nations arts and cultural engagement for First Nations people and communities.
Anne Dixon painting, Ikuntji Artists. Image Credit: Christian Koch.
Ikuntji Artists is an established art centre in the spectacular West MacDonnell Ranges, a community hub that supports cultural maintenance and transmission while achieving an international profile for its contemporary Aboriginal art. Ikuntji Artsists’ Connecting to Country and Culture Across the Western Desert project is supported through the Australia Council’s Chosen program from 2016 to 2018. Chosen sets out to reinvigorate the cultural practice of master apprentice relationships within the arts.
Through the project, Elders with intimate knowledge about the desert prior to contact times have been transferring knowledge and artistic practice to the next generation through journeys to ancestral country around Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff, NT), and further into the Western Desert, as well as through visits to collections holding cultural objects of their ancestors. The timing of this project was critical to capture cultural knowledge before it was lost forever.
The visits to country and collections have been recorded through photography and film as well as paintings. This provided opportunities for the young people to connect with traditional culture in contemporary ways, while learning skills and building solid foundations for their futures through the strength of culture.
First Nations arts engage international tourists, especially those who travel outside capital cities. Australia’s unique position as home to the world’s oldest living culture is part of what makes Australia such a special place to visit.