Indigenous painting takes prime position at the Australian War Memorial


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A new Indigenous art installation, depicting the importance of defence of Country to Aboriginal Australians, has taken prime position in the Australian War Memorial’s orientation gallery.

The vast and vibrant painting was created by 19 artists from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in just four days. 

The APY lands are home to seven thriving arts centres with more than 500 artists working at the centres. Chairman of the APY Executive Board, Frank Young, spoke of the inherent connection to Country that inspired the work.

“There is a connection that Anangu have with Country. It is one of the most important responsibilities: looking after Country, protecting Country, and keeping Country safe. The ancestors handed down this responsibility, and it is as important today as it was hundreds of years ago. It is a particular man that will risk his life for Country,” Mr Young said.

“Since the Boer War Aboriginal soldiers have fought alongside so many non-Indigenous soldiers, together with one goal: to protect this land. An ocean of blood has been lost for Australia.”

Named Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa, (translating to: 'Country and Culture will be protected by spears') the painting is hung opposite the Memorial’s most treasured relic – the bullet ridden Gallipoli landing boat that took men of the 13th Battalion ashore on 25 April 1915.

In late 2016 Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson commissioned the APY Art Centre Collective to create a work depicting the importance of defence of Country to Aboriginal Australians.

“Proud Australians are familiar with Gallipoli and its place in our nation’s birth rites. But amongst those who landed were the first Australians. Only four or five generations after the arrival of the First Fleet and all the devastation it would mean for Aboriginal Australia, they denied their Aboriginality to fight and die for the young nation,” Dr Nelson said.

“In this painting and its prominent display, we are reminded that we are all equal – irrespective of politics, race or religion, we are Australians. We are reminded that this place in which we reveal our nation’s soul [the orientation room], we honour those who in every sense have fought to defend land – Aboriginal land, our common land, our nation Australia.”

Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa is now on permanent display at the Australian War Memorial.

About the painting: Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa features symbols referring to the myriad and complex ways in which rock holes, trees, and the landscape are protectors of the Anangu way of life. In the orange-and-red-toned painting, the tjukurpa of the large central tree is a story of protection. The tree is a symbol of a wati (male) soldier, and the spirit of the ancestors stay in the trees, protecting Anangu. The kulata (spears) are for use by soldiers, not hunters. The u-shapes indicate a family gathering of hunting and inma (song and dance or ceremony). The text inscribed across the painting, ‘Wati Tjilpie Tjutaku Angakakanyilpai Manta Munu Tjukurpa’, translates as ‘the many men and old men hold and protect Country and Culture’.

Artists: Alec Baker, Eric Kumanara Mungi Barney, Pepai Jangala Carroll, Taylor Cooper, Witjiti George, Willy Kaika, Brenton Ken, Ray Ken, Dickie Marshall, Willy Muntjanti Martin, Peter Mungkuri, Jimmy Pompey, Keith Stevens, Bernard Tjalkuri, Thomas Ilytjari Tjilya, Ginger Wikilyiri, Mick Wikilyiri, Mumu Mike Williams and Frank Young.