30 years of Desert Mob

Engaging with this year’s Desert Mob Exhibition and MarketPlace is more than a trending digital pivot or COVID relief initiative; it is a way to play a part in ethically preserving the culture of Aboriginal artists.
30 years of Desert Mob Mervyn Rubuntja, Hubert Pareroultja and Marlene Rubuntja. Photo by Rhett Hammerton. Image supplied.
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Gina Fairley

Monday 17 August, 2020

For 30 years, Desert Mob has been the leading celebration of Aboriginal artists living across the vast region of Central Australia where the contemporary Aboriginal art movement was born.

Desert Mob Is a wonderfully unique and vibrant event curated by Aboriginal artists. It is a nationally significant celebration of Aboriginal art and culture and is a key platform for what is currently happening in the contemporary Aboriginal art movement.

A collaboration between Araluen Arts Centre and Desart, the peak industry body representing over thirty art centres, Desert Mob normally sees a mass of artists, artworkers, collectors and art lovers converge on Mparntwe (Alice Springs) to experience the bold and exhilarating statement of Aboriginal art in the desert landscape.

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With the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, this year’s statement will be just as powerful but experienced across a mix of online, digital and traditional platforms.

With official 30th anniversary celebrations on hold until 2021, Desert Mob 2020 will still include the Exhibition, MarketPlace and Symposium, but with a virtual twist.

Testament to tradition and grounds for innovation

2020 Desert Mob Exhibition promises to continue to be a testament to tradition and a testing ground for experimentation and innovation in contemporary Aboriginal art.

Presented at the Araluen Arts Centre, and also online, the exhibition presents paintings, sculpture, weaving, wood carving, prints, photography and works on paper by established and emerging artists.

Online sales will begin at 9am on Friday 11 September, with free ticketed public viewings from 1pm. The exhibition will continue until Sunday, 25th October.

Valuing stories and sharing futures

Once of the key aspects of Desert Mob is its capacity to bring people together to talk each year – to celebrate and share and preserve Aboriginal culture of Central Australia.

This year, those conversations will take place in the digital realm, as the Desart team took to the road to record the stories of the regions to bring to life online during the Desert Mob Symposium. The discussions explore achievements, developments and contemporary practice from various innovative art centres.

The Symposium will run over seven days, with new topics and presentations released each day, starting on Friday 4 September.

Keeping fun in the online MarketPlace

Through the digital format, lovers and buyers of Aboriginal art can view and purchase works directly from Desart member art centres of the tri state region of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.  Desart will host the virtual marketplace with links that will take buyers directly to the Art Centre’s online shop.

'Desert Mob will provide an opportunity for artists and art centres to generate some much-needed income since the hard-hitting coronavirus. Remote art centres have always been uniquely equipped to operate digitally due to their location and nature of work, but this year’s program is an extension of that projecting Desert Mob onto every far flung computer or phone across the world/country,' said Desart organisers.

Desart has been working closely with art centres to help them navigate through the economic and social impacts of the health crisis as well as facilitate new platforms and opportunities for engagement and marketing.

The organisation’s work is more important than ever to help promote Indigenous culture and ethical purchasing. Desart member Art Centres are Aboriginal-owned and controlled.  They are professionally managed to ensure ethical support for the production, marketing and distribution of authentic Aboriginal art.   

Art Centres are a vital part of community life in remote Central Australia. As well as providing much needed income and employment opportunities, they support the maintenance of culture in communities by providing a focus for family connection, social and cultural activities and the means to celebrate Aboriginal identity. 

Buying artwork from Aboriginal-owned Art Centres means you are supporting families, jobs, community and the next generation of Aboriginal artists. Purchasing artwork through the Desert Mob Exhibition and MarketPlace ensures your work has outstanding provenance with fairness and transparency at every level of the commercial transaction.

Key Dates:

2020 Desert Mob Exhibition: 11 September – 25 October, at the Araluen Arts Centre and online.

Desert Mob Symposium: 4 – 11 September, online.

Desert Mob MarketPlace: 12 – 19 September, online.

To be part of the 2020 Desert Mob experience visit www.desart.com.au

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
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