Exploring pathways to new territory

Across the Northern Territory, Artback NT is connecting audiences to artists, and artists to the rest of Australia.
Exploring pathways to new territory Bitharr Maymuru facilitating a printmaking workshop for Balnhdhurr: A lasting Impression. Photograph courtesy of Wollongong Art Gallery

Anthony Morris

Monday 10 May, 2021

‘Our core philosophy is to create meaningful pathways for artists and creatives in the Northern Territory and to showcase Territory stories, talents and perspectives to broad audiences, that is, to build a healthy and sustainable cultural ecology,’ said Artback NT’s Visual Arts Manager, Jo Foster.

As a development and touring organisation that connects artists, audiences and communities across the Northern Territory, Artback NT’s mission is a wide one.

According to Foster they aim for ‘local focus that has national and global relevance’.

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To achieve that they offer a range of programs, covering visual and performing arts, including artists in schools, Indigenous traditional dance and exchanges with Taiwan.

‘We build capacity in the Northern Territory,’ Foster said, ‘then showcase the amazing work that Territory artists produce nationally and internationally.’

Their hard work has been paying off, with a series of successful tours around the Territory and across Australia.

‘An exhibition currently in development, Some Like It Hot, curated by Wendy Garden, explores the work of Franck Gohier and Therese Ritchie in terms of representations of gender and the tropics,’ Foster said. ‘They’re both acclaimed long term Darwin artists and this is an interesting new framing of their work.

‘We have a number of interstate galleries interested to host the exhibition which means that their work can be appreciated afresh by audiences nationally.’

Simply did not happen by Therese Ritchie, soon on tour across Australia, 2021, digital print.

There’s been international interest too, with recent exhibition Balnhdhurr – A Lasting Impression, celebrating 20 years of printmaking from the Yirrkala Print Space in Arnhem Land, about to finish its national tour and soon to be touring the US.

‘We’re working with an Artback NT equivalent in the US on that,’ Foster said. ‘There’s such depth of cultural knowledge and experience in those works.’

The artists behind the artists

While the artistic development side of things is the most visible to the general public, Artback NT’s work mentoring and nurturing curators plays an equally vital role in creating and sustaining the Northern Territory’s arts scene.

‘There are a number of opportunities for artists to have their studio practice supported but there was very little support out there for curators who wanted to develop exhibitions,’ Foster said. ‘The SPARK NT Curator Program was initiated for just that reason.’

The focus is on giving aspiring curators the skills to put their ideas into practice. They gain experience working with artists, displaying and handling objects, liaising with different galleries, and with the design and marketing that’s required to create a show that connects with audiences. The entire process from beginning to end.

‘It’s a really valuable program,’ Foster said. ‘Everyone that's been involved in has been very appreciative of the experience and outcomes.’

‘Carmen Ansaldo, who developed the SPARK NT show Groundswell: recent movement within art and territory that’s touring at the moment, said "I didn't feel like a curator before, but I do now". It was very affirming to hear that.’

Connecting the Territory to the States

A major focus of Artback NT’s Visual Arts program is to put Northern Territory narratives into an Australian context.

‘I think we're very privileged to be living in the Northern Territory, and have such close connections with Aboriginal culture,’ Foster said. ‘Many of the exhibitions we tour can really enliven a space for cultural exchange.’

Foster points out that shows like Still In My Mind: Gurindji location, experience and visuality, curated by Brenda L Croft currently touring nationally, can work as a potent springboard to discuss the issues that have shaped this country.

Incorporating photographs, an experimental video installation and newly commissioned history paintings alongside extensive archival material, it engages with the complex stories of stolen generations and diaspora experiences backgrounded by the story of the 1966 Gurindji Walk-Off, an event that sparked the national land rights movement.

‘Exhibitions are a way of communicating with each other, of sharing stories and ideas and reflections. They can be inspiring, intriguing, provocative, revelatory and game changing.’ Foster said. ‘The arts are the platform for so much deep exchange and that exchange binds and bolsters community.’

Explore the full range of Artback NT’s work by visiting their website.

About the author

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big IssueEmpire MagazineJunkeeBroadsheetThe Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include ViceThe VineKill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted BrowUrban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention.

You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.