Big Family: ANKA 25, Keeping Art, Country and Culture Strong — 18 October to 17 November 2012

18 October to 17 November 2012


'ANKA was - is - an organisation for Aboriginal/Indigenous people and still remains.' Djambawa Marawili AM, Arnhem, Northern and Kimberley Artists (ANKA) Chairman

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The exhibition Big Family celebrates an unmatched artistic triumph, the 25th anniversary of the Arnhem, Northern and Kimberley Artists (ANKA), representing fifty art centres and artist co-ops ranging across northern Australia. It brings together works by highly respected artists within this regional family — Arnhem Land (Djambawa Marawili), Katherine/Darwin (Regina Pilawuk Wilson), Kimberley (Mabel Juli and Freddie Timms) and Tiwi Islands (Jean Baptiste Apuatimi) — to show the diversity and originality of contemporary art practice.


Alongside these major works is the etching project Big Family 2: Artists' book and etchings by ANKA Members from across Northern Australia, an almanac representing thirty of the forty-nine Aboriginal-controlled Art Centres and artists’ groups who comprise ANKA, printed in collaboration with the celebrated Northern Editions based at Charles Darwin University. Big Family 2 was conceived as a great imaginary book with each work a page and with a special bound edition being donated to a leading art museum. This acknowledges printmaking as an often-important adjunct to the practice of remote artists with remarkable folios being produced by engaged onsite workshops at Yirrkala and Darwin (Northern Editions, Nomad and Basil Hall) in particular.


Djambawa Marawili, as ANKA chairman, sets out the Big Family 2 storyline in his introductory parable about distributing a fishing catch: that families must share the natural bounty and ensure equity above intemperate provocation. Today, just as it was twenty-five years ago, the Big Family 2 suite symbolises the organisation’s first objective, ‘That Aboriginal art is controlled by Aboriginal people’. The ANKA story will someday be told in detail. Staying true to the founding aims of control of culture and spirit has kept the art centre cooperative strong and made the art strong — contributing to a radical revitalisation of tradition of the art and to its political power.



Djambawa Marawili AM, ANKA Chairman, launching Big Family special bound edition, Northern Editions Gallery, Charles Darwin University, August 2012

When the original sixteen Aboriginal-owned art centres from the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia met in 1987, the desert movement was newly launched on the international contemporary art world. (Michael Jagamara Nelson's participation in the 1986 Sydney Biennale was one of several watersheds at that time.) But no-one had any idea of how big the ‘industry’ would become, nor how important the association’s role would be to put the art out there. They knew that Indigenous artists in remote communities were doing something really important and totally unique, even if no-one much was buying it. Although no two communities had the same cultures, language or were making the same art, nowhere else in the world was something of such antiquity being expressed and shared in contemporary forms.


The founders resolved that ANKA membership would comprise 'adult people of Aboriginal descent' living in the regions and be open to artists working through community art centres and those working independently. The flourishing led to establishing Desart based in Alice Springs to better represent the Desert Art Centres. Soon after, in March 1995, a large number of artists met in Darwin to ensure an all-Aboriginal artist board. The strong Kimberley contingent included Tommy May, Queenie McKenzie, Rusty Peters and Peggy and Alan Griffiths. Later that year, an all-Indigenous Annual General Meeting at Cobourg Peninsula passed a new constitution consolidating and reaffirming Aboriginal membership and leadership of the Association.


Since then, two outstanding Indigenous artists and leaders have chaired the organisation: Tommy May followed by Djambawa Marawili AM, serving an organisation where Aboriginal people are the bosses. The Association’s Values Statement, reaffirmed for the anniversary, emphasises the goal of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people walking together 'side by side, no-one in front no-one behind'.


Today, ANKA has over 5,000 artist members and, working from two old schoolrooms in Darwin, supports forty-nine Aboriginal-controlled art centres and artists’ groups working across some one million square kilometres of country. To stay in touch and to document this important art movement, it produces the unique Arts Backbone magazine, also celebrating its continuity. (Download the 25th Anniversary Edition below.) The Board is made up of representatives of the four ANKA regions supported by advisors expert in various professional areas and by a strong commitment to continuous ongoing Indigenous governance and leadership training. Business is conducted in the shared language of English, but this is the first language of only a minority of members, many of whom speak four or more Indigenous languages.


ANKA is a meeting place: sharing information between Aboriginal artists and art centres and between government and industry. But the balance is never lost: keeping art, country and culture strong is everything. Stories told for more than 50,000 years of continuous history, speaking about the landscape and its glories and vicissitudes, continue to be conjured for global audiences. These art forms flourish despite often being produced in environments of poverty, poor health and living conditions. And while these artists create in order to sell their work, they are telling the world something of their culture and seek recognition and rapprochement. The communication and engagement between different cultures is an integral part of this practice. The Cross Art Projects is honoured to present these sustaining cultural arguments within their contemporary conceptual art context.



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Thelma Dixon, Nanny Goat, 2012.
Drypoint, aquatint, spit-bite and silkscreen
Amy Friday, Dugong, 2012.
Drypoint and silkscreen
Glen Farmer, Pukamani Pole, 2012.
Drypoint and silkscreen


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Djambawa Marawili AM, Gurtha, 2012. Bark painting, 158 x 88 cm (4194X) Regina Wilson, Syaw, 2012. Ac/linen, 120 x 43 cm (#657)

Regina Wilson, Wagarrdi, 2012. Acrylic/linen, 199 x 196 cm (#656)



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Mabel Juli, Wardel and Garnkiny, 2012. Natural ochre and pigment on canvas, 120 x 90 cm Freddie Timms, Gum Creek Plain, 2012. Natural ochre and pigment on canvas, 120 x 90 cm

Mabel Juli, Marranyji (Dingo), 2011. Natural ochre and pigment on canvas, 120 x 90 cm



Thank you to Djambawa Marawilli AM, ANKA Chairman, and ANKA Board of Directors; Christina Davidson, ANKA CEO; Christopher Durkin, ANKA Resource and Development Officer, Northern Editions. This text is based on introductions by Christina Davidson, Djambawa Marawili and Djon Mundine in the ANKA Arts Backbone, '25th Anniversary Edition', volume 12, no 1, August 2012. Thanks to art cenres Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Durrmu Arts, Tiwi Design, Warmun Art Centre and speakers on the anniversary: Djon Mundine (ex Bula'bula Arts) and Karen Dayan (ex Mangkaja Arts).



ANKA Arts Backbone, '25th Anniversary Edition', volume 12, no 1, August 2012



Invitation to Big Family > Download pdf  




To find out more about Australia’s vibrant Indigenous art industry, you can read the Indigenous Art Code, and contact ANKA, Desart, Ananguku Arts & Culture and UMI Arts to find out how you can support Indigenous artists and art centres.


Podcast: Contemporary Aboriginal Art Centre movement, Saturday 27 October at 3pm



Digging for ochre with Mabel Juli - White ochre in Gija language is called mawandu  - 

Warmun Art Centre at  

Mabel Juli and the Wild West, ABC TV documentary at

Australia’s vibrant Indigenous art industry in Northern Australia: contact ANKA -


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