Ikuntji Festival

Friday 13th June


It’s been a bit of a whirlwind getting here. I’ve flown direct from Europe from the Hepworth and the sculpture parks and art galleries of Yorkshire; through the hip contemporary galleries of the East End. I got boats up the Thames between the Tate’s, and finally totally surprised myself by falling in love with the National Gallery where I copied Rubens’ for days on end. I go f n rom that, via Dubai, to Sydney. Here I had 24 hours to organize a plumber for a leak from my shower into my wardrobe, cuddle my dog, sleep, and pack my shiny new hiking boots, then it’s up early to fly direct to Alice Springs and Ikuntji.


I arrive in Alice on a bright and sunny winter’s day (3rd June), full of excitement and anticipation. Chrischona, the Arts Centre Manager, rings me as I picked up my bags and headed to the exit. “I’m outside in the Troopie” she says. I confidently stride out of the doors and wave at her, only to have the shoelaces on my new boots catch hold of the wrong boot and – SMACKDOWN! – I’m lying on the floor, knees burning with pain and a hand that won’t function properly. I try and stand up and to my immense embarrassment find that the 20kg backpack has me stranded on the pavement, pinned to the ground, kicking my legs around like and upturned turtle. Eventually about 6 people haul me up and I turn to see Chrischona’s little face peering through the window of the Troop Carrier. I can only imagine what she is thinking… and yes, Chrischona, this is the intern that is supposedly here to help you!


It’s absolutely beautiful here in Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff). The country is all red earth and contrasting bright cloudless blue skies. The rocky outcrops of the Western MacDonald Ranges are just stunning, especially at dawn and dusk when they turn a Fauvish red mauve and gold. The scrubby grey-green of the emu bush and orange hued spinifex carve a living out of the red sandhills and after a three hour journey from Alice we arrive at Ikuntji just as the sun is setting. I fall out of the car and head to the demountable that will become my home over the next 10 weeks.


Ikuntji is, according to the MacDonnell Regional Council website, a community of 165 people. To the north is Ulampawarru and Anyali (Mt Edward and Mt William), and to the south is the stunning Mereenie Bluff. It’s a gathering of houses surrounded by a fence, with roads running through it and it’s my home for the next 10 weeks.


The next morning is Wednesday, and not just any Wednesday but the one before Ikuntji Art Centre’s 21st Birthday Festival (hyperlink). For the next week, along with Julia and Chris (last year’s NAS Internship recipient who is back to help again) we plough through a huge amount of work. We curate, stretch and organise works, hang a show across three rooms, prepare other works for sale, clear a large space out the back of the Art Centre for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. We take a brief moment to watch the final touches being made to massive, impressive Community Painting (see pic) that includes the Hassts’ Bluff Centipede dreaming, and cast an eye over the men making final touches to spears and boomerangs.


Finally the weekend happens, campers arrive, art is bought, the opening ceremony delights everyone and roo tails are cooked. A gallery owner from Paris arrives and puts some works on consignment, reminding us all that despite the fact that I can see from one end of Ikuntji to the next, the art produced here and in communities like this still enjoys considerable success internationally.


On the Sunday, Chrischona decides to draw on her previous experience, and to shift some old stock with an impromptu Auction. It’s huge fun, with us scurrying about like crazy fools pulling out artworks and parading them around the centre. I even buy a few bargains myself.


Eventually it’s over… and exhausted and happy we finally get a day off.



In my next entry I will tell you a bit more about the community and artwork here.