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Arts from the Western Deserts

Photo Puntijina Watson 'Minyma Punpunpa'Randell Lane Fine Arts in Mt Lawley specialises in art from the Western Desert Regions. Randell Lane’s Mark Walker and Bradley Calamel are passionate advocates for ethical investment in Aboriginal art. Their gallery sources all of its work from the Aboriginal owned and run community art centres which are vital to the survival of many small communities.

With a new exhibition coming up this month incorporating a floor talk from artists from the Ninuku Arts Centre, OUTinPerth caught up with Mark Walker to find out more about the gallery and the importance of community arts centres.

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‘We started selling Aboriginal art six years ago. We used to have a private gallery space before. We’ve always specialized in Western Desert, near the tri state border. I was invited to go to an exhibition out there. It was a very small exhibition, but I fell in love with the work. Then I used to fly out there myself and camp. I slowly built up relationships with the community. As arts centres opened up, we did the inaugural exhibitions. So, we’ve been there since day one. People know us in the industry as selling Western Desert art – that’s what we really know. It’s still a very new arts movement; it probably only started in the early 90s up at Warburton.

‘We started out when really a lot of these artists weren’t very well known, but in the last couple of years the profiles of the artists have increased. We thought that we needed to give them better representation, so we opened this gallery, but really we’ve sold works by these artists for a long time. There’s only about four or five places in Australia that sell what we do; because the artists don’t produce much work, we’re very specialized. These communities probably produce about 50-70 A-grade works a year and that’s to supply the whole of Australia. The works are hard to get, and we sell to all around Australia and overseas simply because they [the works] are very, very scarce at that high level.

‘There’s [currently] an Inquiry into all areas of Aboriginal art. There’s been a lot of art sold that’s been made in China; also, there are a lot of people working in the industry unethically. Especially when some of the artists get very well known, people are going in trying to give them canvasses, then taking the canvasses and selling them at inflated rates. It should be finished sometime this year, and they’re going to come up with some ideas of how to prevent some of the unethical practices.

‘If you have a community arts centre, it is the only business in a tiny community that sometimes houses thirty people and it’s the only way they can make money. Once an arts centre is up and running, you find that people have a car and better clothes. The store suddenly has better food in it because there’s more money going through the community. One community nurse said she used to get sixty people a day coming in and asking for drops, but when the arts centre was up and running, she was likely to get ten people a day because they were all occupied. The arts centre becomes a meeting place. If it’s a nice environment people can sit there, gossip, paint, tell stories, sometimes it’s a crèche for the kids and sometimes it’s a safe haven from violence or whatever goes on. It’s not just where they produce art, it’s much, much greater than that. That’s why when an artist is taken away to paint away from the arts centre, it becomes dangerous for the arts centre. They can lose money that supports several artists there. People get confused. They think that an arts centre is just about art, but it’s not. It’s the only thing in the community, the most lively thing, and they have to be protected.

‘There’s a lot of stories that are told in the painting, andart centres actually preserve them. They’re on computer and the stories are always expanding as time goes on. Because they quite often haven’t had a written language, it’s a really a great way of preserving culture for the next generation. And it’s great for young people because the young people learn from the older people. Community arts is very important to a very small community – it’s everything to a community

‘We always do a focus on an artist each year, and this year we’re doing a community [Ninuku]. We’ve got four artists plus the arts co-ordinator coming. The artists will talk about their paintings and then their stories associated with their paintings. We also want to talk about the Inquiry into indigenous art because all of the art centres that we deal with are Aboriginal owned and run. [We want to discuss] how they have been affected by carpet baggers and people entering illegally. These talks that we’re doing are a way to meet the artists and learn more about art centres and what they do and how they protect the artists and make sure they get the correct amount of money.’

The exhibition of works from Ninuku Arts Centre will be running at Randell Lane Fine Art Gallery on the corner of Vincent and Beaufort Streets, until July 28. The gallery is open Tues-Sat 11am-5pm.

Places are extremely limited, but if you are interested in attending the floor talk ‘Beginnings’ and ‘Their Stories’ by Ninuku artists, contact Mark Walker at randellart@iinet.net.au.

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