I'm very excited to report that I am in the swarming metropolis Big Smoke of Alice Springs (you know you are in the proper outback when Alice Springs feels like a city). Full of amazing things like Woolworths, markets, proper coffee and .. a hospital.
Ah, yes. remember that hand I hurt when I unceremoniously fell over within seconds of being here? It's still not working properly (who knew you needed a left hand to unscrew jar lids and open doors?) So I have managed to wangle a lift into town and a trip to A&E for an Xray. All good, not broken. Meanwhile I get to enjoy all the fun of Alice, which has just had the Annual Beanie Festival. The world reknowned festival of all things wooly and hat-like at the Araluen Arts Centre. It is amazing what people can do with some wool, felt and imagination! It was great fun - we tried on hats and checked out which communities had contributed and bought one or two.
But, I promised you news of my daily life in Ikuntji. The community is surprisingly easy and comfortable for me. I live in a thing which is a cross between a demountable house and a shipping container, called a 'donga' (could you get a more Australian sounding word?). It's amazingly comfy mainly because it has heating, electricity, a cooker, and bed and I've added a few female touches. On the downside it has no windows. My neighbours are a bunch of builders who are building a new store. Occasionally government workers come through and share my space - people from Premier and Cabinet Office (which now controls all Aboriginal Affairs except art), Centrelink, Education etc. It's great to meet people as they come through.
By day I work at the Ikuntji Artists which is a 1 minute walk from my place. There I help the artists by preparing canvases, mixing paints, putting mats down for them to sit on and making cups of tea (especially for the older ladies). Some of the women who paint here are in their 80's and some even recall their first encounters with whitefellas. There are also men painting here, and of course, younger generations. I'd really recommend you check out the Ikuntji Artists website where you can see the artworks, and check out the biographies of all the artists, and buy a piece! I love how each artist here has their own style and way of expressing their story.
One of my favourite passtimes here is watching people paint. When I was in the UK I copied the masters' works I admired. I can't do that here.. but the good news is I can talk to the artists instead. I feel very privileged and it's amazing to experience being able to talk art across cultures. It's inspiring for me, although I still have no idea how the work and being exposed so closely to it's production will affect my work. I'm trying not to worry about that and instead I'm just absorbing as much of the experience as possible.
The artists and the community here in general are incredibly welcoming and friendly. From past experiences I was not expecting big conversation, eye-contact or much interaction (I'm a stranger, and have no place/kinship within the social structure). However, I have been welcomed with incredible warmth by everyone.
We've also been doing a massive stocktake and going through all the paintings and works on paper. This has been a real blessing for me as it means I've looked at virtually every work here, and been through all the old records. Occasionally someone will walk by and spot an old painting, instantly telling me the story and who painted it, and how they are related. It's awesome!
By evening I've been writing, painting and watching The Wire on my laptop. I've also been helping Darby and Emily make decorations and prepare for their wedding - which happened at the weekend. It was the most beautiful event. The whole town came (a poster announcing it was put on the Rec Hall door). The little Church was packed to overflowing, people dressed up, came from overseas and locally, and everyone played their part including those on the door who in the main kept the dogs out. Emily looked incredible and Darby couldn't stop smiling. Then we all piled down to the Creek for fires, a huge feed and a live band. A fabulous, and dry, night was had by all.
I've also managed a few trips out around the area, which is so beautiful and inspiring. The days are bright and cloudless with endless blue skies and a hot sun (around 20 degrees most days) At night it drops to freezing or just below. Because there is no light pollution, the night skies are just mindblowing. I'm tempted to sleep out in my swag just because it's so beautiful (but the lure of the heating drives me back inside!)
It's hard to sum this all up in so few words, but it's absolutely inspiring. Thanks NAS for sending me!!