At Finders Keepers, we recognise the important role that Indigenous art centres play in the cultural life of traditional Aboriginal artists living in remote communities. Injalak Arts is an outstanding example of a community organisation that is 100% Aboriginal owned and delivers positive social, economic and cultural outcomes for its members.
Read on to discover more about the role Injalak Arts plays within the creative community and be sure to pop by their stall at The Cutaway, Barangaroo Reserve this 4-6 May.
Tell us about the Injalak Arts Centre
Injalak Arts is an aboriginal owned and governed art centre located in remote Northern Territory. Injalak Arts can be found in Gunbalanya community, which is east of Darwin travelling through Kakadu National Park to West Arnhem Land.
Injalak Arts is like an informal art school. Since it opened in 1989 senior artists and ceremonial elders have taught technique and mentored the next generations of artists. This is wholly organised amongst the artists and craftspeople themselves.
The art centre is open to visitors from May to October who can purchase a permit to visit or book onto a tour. The art centre shares and teaches culture to the next generation and to visitors, providing a space for artists and weavers to develop new ways to represent traditional stories. In its role supporting the ethical production of artwork the art centre is one of the main sources of income for many in the community.
As a collective the art centre promotes and shares the work of local aboriginal artists throughout Australia and the world, with a shop at the art centre, markets at other locations, as well as a fantastic social media presence and online shop. For the last 27 years members of Injalak Arts travel to Kakadu National Park to demonstrate to thousands of visitors there twice a week as part of the interpretive ranger program.
What are you most looking forward to about our upcoming Sydney market?
It’s so exciting to be able to meet all our long distance supporters – people who have visited us in Gunbalanya and our many facebook and instragram friends – and show them our newest creations up close. We also appreciate the opportunity to engage with a new audience – people who may not have heard of us but are interested in ethically produced arts and crafts.
We are really looking forward to bringing a wider range of products than we’ve had previously, we’ll have paintings, baskets, fabric and bags sent directly from Injalak Arts to Sydney. Lots of people are very wary of purchasing Indigenous products because they don’t want to support fraud. To be able to share the culture and strength of indigenous artists from the remote Northern Territory makes us really proud.
With all our products we have tags and brochures that explain the processes and the provenance of the arts and crafts. It’s very important to us to share the story and significance of each and every item.
Who’s eligible to be involved with the centre?
We are very inclusive – any Kunwinjku person over the age of 18 can be a member and we have around 300 active in any given year, over 100 participate very regularly. Our members are men and women of all ages. Some are established artists and others are fairly new.
We buy the arts and crafts outright from our members because Injalak Arts is a cooperative, it is also non-profit. All proceeds from sales go back into supporting our operations and the activities of members. Our Management Committee decides how we spend the income. For example every year we subsidise every funeral ceremonies to assist with expenses of bringing relatives together.
There are many aboriginal owned and governed art centres around Australia, and many of them have websites and a social media presence that allows people from all over the world to see what they are doing. Each art centre has a different set of criteria for eligibility.
The artists are highly regarded in many types of art and craft. Both men and women artists are expert screenprinters and designers, hand printing designs featuring local traditional stories onto fabric. The women at the art centre are renowned for their weaving using natural fibres and colours. The ladies go out bush collecting and processing their materials by hand before beginning the weaving process, which produces high quality and detailed work. Men are the main painters, using bark as well as modern mediums like paper to make artwork that reflects the traditional stories and figures in rock art.
What products do you sell in your shop?
We can honestly say that Injalak Arts has the widest variety of products of any art centre in Australia. We make everything from original artworks: which are paintings, carvings, weavings and didjiridus to publishing our own books and fair trade thongs (in partnership with Etiko). We also hand-print onsite our own fabric designs.
We have 45 different designs by men and women and an 8 metre table and our teams of printers (men and women) are extremely productive. They are so proud of their designs and their growing popularity within Australia and internationally. We sell fabric lengths (usually 2m) as well as cushion covers, bags and purses made by our Cambodian fair-trade partners featuring our screenprinted fabric. Our fabric is hugely popular with customers who love hand making their own clothes and homewares. At the markets we’ll have a range of our products to show the variety and quality so people can see them up close.
It’s hard to say what’s the most popular – we have people who will come to us and only buy one thing (big or small) and others who will buy one of everything, from fine art to cards. Of course some women can’t get past the fabrics. Weavings are also extremely popular.