Entertainment Arts Arnhem Land artists reveals playful side of indigenous culture in Darwin

Arnhem Land artists reveals playful side of indigenous culture in Darwin

Artwork displayed
The exhibition showcases "the playful side" of Injalak art. Photo: ABC
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Artists from West Arnhem Land have showcased the playful side to Injalak art at the Don Whyte Gallery in Darwin.

While the artwork might not seem wacky to the untrained eye, those familiar with the intricacies of traditional indigenous art will notice the unusual styles.

Most of the artists train for many years to paint traditional cultural stories and the paintings play an important role in maintaining the oldest continuing culture in the world.

For decades art buyers have been attracted to the famously meticulous hatching, known as raark, painted to create intricate dreaming stories and culturally significant animals.

The artists from Injalak Hill in the Northern Territory have followed strict rules about how and what they create.

But this exhibition is showcasing a more unusual side of Injalak art.

Artwork on show
Alex Ressel from Injalak Arts holds two stingrays made out of palm fronds. Photo: ABC

It’s a side often overlooked by tourists expectant of West Arnhem Land’s exquisite traditional style, said Alex Ressel from Injalak Arts.

“Here they’ve kind of let loose a bit and created works that are a bit more dynamic and are really innovative and give you a different perspective of art making in the region,” he said.

The exhibition features a dilly bag, central to West Arnhem Land culture woven around a plastic bottle and palm fronds painted into stingrays.

Materials used for spears, transformed into an oversized squid and symbols of death, painted in ways they have never been before.

“We’re seeing artists creating for its own sake and they’re having fun exploring forms, exploring stories and incorporating elements of western art history as well as more traditional painting practices,” he said.

Many of the artists are exposed to western art forms, and say they face struggles as artists in a contemporary world.

A rainbow serpent painted front on with facial details is a rare sight, with most paintings depicting it side on, with its full body in frame.

Rainbow serpent
A painting of Ngalyod — rainbow serpent — is showcased by Zebulun Nayilibidji who has many other wacky works. Photo: ABC

The artist has learned western art history and the painting can be seen a depictions of the two art forms colliding.

The exhibition has been curated for years and is on display at the Don Whyte Gallery in Darwin until June, showcasing traditional indigenous artists as thriving, conflicted and fun.