Ive been a professional Aboriginal Artist for over a decade now (that sounds so impressive! Basically I mean people have bought my paintings. And commissioned me to paint for them – that counts, right??) and its taken off more so in the past couple of years – my facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elizabeth-Close-Aboriginal-Artist/292984567420655) (shameless plug – but hey, its my blog! I can do what I want!!) has grown to nearly 950 ‘likes’ and I have a commission list that is six months long. Tjala Arts Centre in Amata is once of the biggest art centres in Australia. Tjala is the Pitjantjatjara word for the Honey Ant – and Amata Community is surrounded by Honey Ant Dreaming. So anyway, before we left, I contacted the Tjala facebook page and asked if I could visit. It isn’t a gallery, so its important to respect the privacy of the artists by not just swanning in expecting to be able to intrude and look around. So I finally plucked up the courage (I’m not sure why I felt so intimidated) to visit, and I crept in. 10ish Anangu Elder Women looked up at me; they had huge pieces of artwork out in front of them, they sat on the floor, and a few sat at tables, painting away. I said “Palya!!” and they smiled at me (sometimes having a baby wrapped up on my back is an exceptional ice-breaker!) Skye was really busy but she, in her fluent Pitjantjatjara, explained who I was (in any Aboriginal community – everyone knows exactly who you are, even if you don’t know them!) my family links and that I was an accomplished artist in my own right. She invited me to have a look around. I wandered through and spoke to some of the women about their artwork. I asked them of the stories that they were painting. One woman was painting bush onions, another the songlines of the country. Such masterpieces of vibrancy and depth; I felt the weight of 60,000 years of art and culture descend on me again, just like the first time I stepped foot on the APY and visited the Indulkana Art Centre. My eyes welled up and I felt a lump in my throat. That pain, that grief and despair at having missed out on the opportunity to learn from these women; my people, from the very beginning, was still there and still raw. Was I even worthy to stand among these women? I felt like I should take my little paintbrush and catch the bush bus back to Adelaide. But no. whilst I will never count myself alongside these incredible women, I AM an Aboriginal woman, and I AM an artist with a story to tell, and sadly, the impact of the stolen generation is a part of the tapestry of who I am as a person and as an artist. Skye said she was keen to talk about my involvement with the art centre; I dearly hope that I get the opportunity to sit alongside those amazing women to listen and learn. In the meantime though, I’m happy to be able to be on country and paint, even in my own home. There was something so cathartic about putting my first painting that I had done here on country, out to dry on the red sand of our front yard. Yep. Im home.
As an aside, this is the link to Tjala Arts facebook page! Go give them some love!! https://www.facebook.com/tjala.arts?fref=photo