Places and stories : mapping Ngaanyatjarra art-making practices (Nintilu Kulira Palyaratjaku Ngayuku-Lampatju Ngurrawanalu)

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In the past four decades Australian Aboriginal art has achieved national and international recognition, and has come to occupy a significant space in the Australian cultural environment. The success of Aboriginal art has found its counterpart in a wealth of studies, both by academics in diverse disciplines and museum professionals. This literature shows how art production is part of a specific cultural and social context and how it is connected to specific Aboriginal epistemologies. However, references to Aboriginal art’s connections to everyday life are scant. This thesis aims to fill this gap, arguing that art-making needs to be located in the fine-grained relational complexities of everyday life, particularly in the material, social, cultural and epistemological specifics of daily life in remote Aboriginal communities. I develop this argument by providing a detailed record based on a rich ethnography of daily life at the Papulankutja Artists art centre. Papulankutja is a community of approximately 160 residents who are predominantly from the Ngaanyatjarra and Pitjantjatjara language groups, situated between the Western and Victorian Deserts in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands Western Australia. I spent several periods in Papulankutja between July 2011 and February 2016, working at the art centre and forming firm relationships with both artists and the art centre’s manager. To illuminate the daily flow of life in the art centre and the associated sites connected to art-making practices, I use ethnographic vignettes that illustrate the social, emplaced and multisensory aspects of art production. I read the art centre through the organising principle of ‘place’, as a collection of trajectories and stories, through what I call a storied environment. This thesis adds to our understanding of commercial art production and everyday life in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands. My findings demonstrate that art production itself is shown to be fundamentally enmeshed in socio-cultural practices and storied environments.
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