Tarnanthi Festival shines light on Maralinga bomb blasts

An Aboriginal art installation featuring hundreds of hanging spears.
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More than 60 years have passed since the first nuclear bomb tests were carried out at Maralinga, but many affected are only now speaking out about what happened.

That’s the case for some artists who have created an installation for Adelaide’s Tarnanthi Festival, which showcases contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works.

“For a lot of the artists it’s the first time they’ve spoken publicly about their personal experiences of living through the atomic bomb testing,” festival curator Nici Cumpston said.

“It tells me so much about the hurt and the pain and sorrow that so many people are living with today.”

The installation includes 550 timber “kulata” or spears that hang from the ceiling of the South Australian Art Gallery.

They were carved in the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, where the so-called “black mist” swept over in the 1950s and ’60s.

Aboriginal artist Mike Williams sits in front of an installation.

Through a translator, artist Mike Williams said it was important that this part of Australia’s history was remembered.

“We Aboriginal people want everyone to know about and think about Maralinga and Emu Junction,” he said.

“We want to teach our young people about spears and to keep the story behind that strong.”

The installation is part of the Kulata Tjuta, or Many Spears, which began in 2010 as a men’s project in community art centres.

Women were also involved, creating dozens of “pity” dishes or bowls.

Vase artworks on display.

The techniques have been used for centuries and are being passed down to younger generations.

“The project has been around for a long time within communities,” Ms Cumpston said.

“They’ve been making the spears, the senior men, and been teaching the younger men how to carve and create the spear.

“It’s a cultural maintenance project but then but it’s also a contemporary art installation.”

Aboriginal art ‘so much more’ than dot painting

Artist Nyurpaya Kaika travelled from the remote APY Lands for the festival opening and wants everyone to see her community’s work.

“I’m really happy inside for everyone see this work that the young and old have done together,” she said.

Thousands of works will be showcased across 20 venues in Adelaide over the next 10 days for Tarnanthi.

It’s the largest event of its kind in Australia and includes a three-day art fair.

Textile artworks at the Tarnathi Festival.

Ms Cumpston said one misconception she wants to get rid of is that Indigenous art is all about dot painting.

“That’s what I love about Tarnanthi, that we can break through all of those stereotypes and show people what’s really happening,” she said.

“It’s about so much more than just painting, not that there’s anything wrong with painting, but it is absolutely taking it to another level by working in film, photography, in sculpture, installation, it’s just fantastic.

“I’d like them (the public) to see who we are as Aboriginal people and that we’re all different and just like any other artist.

“We have different ways of expressing ourselves and it just depends on our skill and our desire.”

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