Warlukurlangu Artists is one of the most successful and longest running art centres in the Northern Territory. It is based in the community of Yuendumu in Central Australia, located 290km northwest from Alice Springs on the Tanami Road.
Yuendumu is a large Aboriginal community; the population fluctuates between 700 to 1000 people and it comprises families from similar language groups with strong cohesive traditional culture. Yuendumu has a school, clinic, police station, several shops and other Aboriginal organisations including Mt Theo Youth Program, Kurdu Kurdukurlangu Childcare Centre, Western Desert Dialysis Unit, PAW Media, and Women’s Centre. Warlukurlangu Artists also supports the artists from the neighbouring Warlpiri communities of Nyirripi and Yuelumu.
Established in 1985 Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation is a not-for-profit organisation that is 100% Aboriginal-owned by its artists from the remote desert communities of Yuendumu and Nyirripi in Central Australia.
Warlukurlangu Artists is famous for its gloriously colourful acrylic paintings and limited edition prints. The art centre has a national and international profile and its art has been featured in hundreds of exhibitions and publications in Australia and around the world.
Warlukurlangu means ‘belonging to fire’ in the local language, Warlpiri, and is named for a fire dreaming site west of Yuendumu. It is a fundamental aim of Warlukurlangu Artists to share Warlpiri culture and in addition, to increase awareness about Aboriginal culture generally, and to broadly support Indigenous causes. Over the years Warlukurlangu Artists has supported its own community and other organisations working to improve conditions for Aboriginal people. It has contributed funds or artworks for fund-raising to a number of projects such as the Yuendumu Community Swimming Pool, Kurdu Kurdukurlangu Childcare Centre and Shalom Gamaroda Scholarship Fund which supports Indigenous students studying for a variety of medical and health related degrees at University of NSW.
The maintenance of Warlpiri culture and its transfer to the next generation of Warlpiri people is a key element of Warlukurlangu Artists mission which states:
Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association is the guardian of the Jukurrpa, the law and culture of the Warlpiri and Anmatyerre people living at Yuendumu. Warlukurlangu aims to ‘keep the culture strong’. Warlukurlangu provides a forum and support base for cultural and social activities within the community. Warlukurlangu provides a means for the economic empowerment of the Yuendumu community, through the provision of services to its member artists for the production, marketing, and distribution of their visual arts and crafts.
The art centre supports community cultural activities such as the young men’s annual initiation camps by supporting families and providing ceremonial materials such as ochre, feathers and hair string. When people pass away the art centre often supports the ‘sorry camps’ by providing food, water and money for blankets.
For many years Warlukurlangu has supported a school holiday cultural maintenance program. Children practice their traditional designs and learn the stories associated with them as well as earning a little bit of pocket money.
Warlukurlangu art centre is proud of its painting and story archive, possibly one of the best in the Australia. Since 1986 every painting has been sold with an accompanying certificate of authenticity. Each certificate tells the story of the painting and has the artists and painting details. These records are a valuable cultural resource and an important repository of local Jukurrpa (dreaming stories).
Warlukurlangu Artists organizes annual ‘bush trips’ to country. Many people are no longer living on their traditional lands and these trips allow artists and community members to reconnect to their traditional culture and country. The artists value these trips highly. They may be simple day trips, or more ambitious journeys travelling hundreds of kilometres to specific sacred sites. This connection to country reinvigorates and inspires the artists painting practice.
Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation is directed by an Executive Committee of men and women representing Yuendumu community’s ‘skin groups.’ Regular meetings are held at the art centre to discuss the business performance and to develop policy with the management. These meetings are open to all the artists.
Warlukurlangu Artists prides itself on being a successful collaborative enterprise where non-Indigenous and local people bring their own unique skills to work as a team. Executive Committee members are on site painting, attending to business, and interacting with staff and visitors every day.
Header image: Roxanne Nungarrayi Martin, Lukarrara Jukurpa (Desrt Fringe-rush Seed Dreaming) 2017, acrylic on Belgian linen, 61 x 30cm Feature image: Murdie Nampijinpa Morris, Malikijarra Jukurrpa (Two Dog Dreaming), 2017, acrylic on canvas, Nyirripi, 30 x 30 cm