Tandanya resumes 30th year celebrations with a new focus on contemporary art

Lockdown disruptions to its 30th year celebrations gave Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute time to pause and “reflect” on its future, its chief executive has said, with contemporary art emerging as a key focus.

The Adelaide venue reopens to the public on Saturday after COVID-19 social restrictions forced it to close for six-and-a-half months, putting the brakes on 30th anniversary celebrations that began in January.

“It was really disappointing, but it gave us time to do things we probably wouldn’t have been able to do if it was day to day business,” CEO Dennis Stokes said.

“It gave us time to reflect about where we’re going in the future.

“What are we? What’s Tandanya’s purpose? Where are we going to be in another 30 years?”

Youth kept busy


During the lockdown it was thoughts about young artists and how to give them opportunities that led Tandanya to showcase their talents in a music video called Still Stylin’ 2020 — released in August.

Filmed on Ngarrindjeri, Kaurna and Peramangk country, and featuring a variety of young artists, Still Stylin’ 2020 is a mash-up of re-imagined songs that were performed in the past by Christine Anu.

Aweyle Creation by Charmaine Pwerle features in the Atnwengerrp exhibition.(Supplied: Deb Edwards Publicity)

Tandanya creative producer Sasha Zahra said it was important that the institute continued to engage with artists despite its closure to the public, giving them “paid opportunities to create new work within the space”.

“Still Stylin’ 2020 was about engaging with a broad range of South Australian First Nations artists, both established and emerging, from a number of art forms, creatively activating and utilising the many spaces and resources within the Tandanya venue,” she said.

Mr Stokes said it was a good example of where the institute wanted to go in terms of direction.

“We’ll always look after our traditional side of culture, but we want to do a lot more contemporary works,” he said.

“If you look at the clip, it’s all young people, but there’s also a couple of paintings of Uncle Verle [Williams] and Auntie Mini [Raelene Campion].

“Both of them worked here for 26 years out of the institute’s 30 — Uncle Verle is still here and Auntie Mini only resigned last year — and this was our way of respecting our past and now we’re looking to the future.

A 30-year return

Tandanya first opened its doors to the public in 1989 after occupying the former Electric Light and Traction Company headquarters on Grenfell Street, which had been functioning as a TAFE venue.

The first exhibition it presented was called Utopia — A Picture Story, which featured works on silk by women from the Utopia region in the Northern Territory.

A black and white image of a brick factory with 1980s cars parked out front.
A circa 1988 image of the former Electric Light and Traction Company headquarters.(Supplied: Deb Edwards Publicity)

Mr Stokes said about five Utopia women from that inaugural exhibition had returned for its latest exhibition, Atnwengerrp — Our Apmere, Our Place, which opens on Saturday.

“I think the eldest lady is 96,” he said.

“Thirty years of an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander institute is a big achievement.

“It is run by the people, so we work for them, and I think surviving for 30 years of self-determination is a really big thing because it is autonomous and run by the community.”

The exhibition will also feature a short film entitled 30 30 30, which involves 30-second clips from past members and supporters about Tandanya and its contribution as Australia’s “only national Aboriginal cultural institute”.

“Nobody is going to tell our stories better than we can and we will continue to survive and thrive well beyond our 30th,” Mr Stokes said.

Antwengerrp — Our Apmere, Our Place runs at Tandanya until December 21.

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