ADC’s First Nations Creative Producer Dakota Dixon recently travelled to Mparntwe (Alice Springs) to assist with the installation of ADC On Tour exhibition SIXTY: The Journal of Australia Ceramics 60th anniversary 1962-2022 at Araluen Arts Centre. While she was in Mparntwe, Dakota met with some local makers and artists. Read about her experience.

Day 1

On Tuesday I set off on my journey to Mparntwe (pronounced m’barn-twa). The traditional owners of the land are the Arrernte (pronounced Arrunda) people of Alice Springs and surrounding areas.

My role was to assist with the install of the travelling exhibition SIXTY: The Journal of Australian Ceramics 60th anniversary 1962-2022 at Araluen Arts Centre. As ADC First Nations Creative Producer, I had the opportunity to connect with some artists and makers in Mparntwe and to showcase on TikTok their work.

My first day consisted of travelling to Mparntwe from Sydney with ADC Creative Producer Fiona Pulford. Our first stop was Araluen Art Centre. The Centre is beautiful! It had the most amazing stained glass windows out the front of the main building. There were two exhibitions already on display at the gallery. I had a quick look at the exhibitions, making mental notes of my favourite pieces.

This was my first time installing a touring exhibition. We had to check all of the crates and boxes that had arrived by train. After looking at all the work and strategising about what was needed to be done for the next day, we headed off to our accommodation. We stayed at a caravan park called ‘Wintersun’. Now one thing I learnt the hard way, when travelling to Mparntwe make sure you have a car, as everything is spread out and public transport isn’t the most reliable!

Day 2

On Wednesday we were up bright and early. The mornings were a very fresh 5 degrees. When the sun came out it would warm up to a lovely dry heat of 25 degrees which was perfect with beautiful weather the whole time we were there.

Fiona and I headed to Araluen Art Centre and got straight into setting up the exhibition. Later that day I met with some of the artists from Tangentyere Centre. I met with artists April Spencer and Marjorie Williams, they showed me what they are working on and finished work hanging in the gallery. I sat with April, and she told me all about how her father taught her to paint the traditional way, and how Marjorie will be performing in a choir in Sydney.

Tangentyere artists allowed me to film in their shop. They have an online store where they sell t-shirts, jumpers, tea towels, kids clothing and prints of some of the works by the artists. I thought the t-shirts were excellent and so of course I had to support them and ended up buying a t-shirt and jacket.

After chatting with the lovely ladies at Tangentyere it was time to head back to Araluen to see if they needed my help with the install. In between helping with the install, I was able to go and spend more time looking at the Clay on Country exhibition. My favourite piece was one by artist Mel Robson called Ingress Egress Regress 2, it consist of a wall display of ceramic bones, and some of the bones had decals and engravings on them. I liked the artwork because each individual piece was a work of art and then as a whole the artwork was still really beautiful.

We finished up the day and headed back to our campground.

Day 3

I woke up bright and early as I was on a mission to explore the beautiful town of Mparntwe. I thought the best way to see the town is just to walk around on foot. I had planned to see a few art galleries today along Todd Mall. What I found when I went there, is that majority of the galleries won’t allow you to film inside as they don’t want anyone stealing the paintings cultural stories and styles, which I completely understand and agree with.

Along Todd Mall there is a park, and I noticed some people sitting down selling their artworks. I went and had a good chat to them and met a lady named Gwenith Morris she showed me her artwork explained the story to me.

I was amazed at how much public artwork there is in town. It is inspiring and something I hope to be able to work on in Sydney. Public artwork and making your environment visually appealing makes a huge difference in the community. Mparntwe has some of the best murals I have ever seen.

I made my way back to Araluen Arts Centre where I helped with the last and final part of the exhibition installation. We placed all the works on their correct tables with their stations, made sure everything was dust free and looking excellent. The exhibition will be officially opened on Friday, just in time for the Beanie Festival. After a busy afternoon we clocked off and went back to the campsite.

Day 4

Today was a non-working day and so I thought I better make the most out of this trip and spoil myself with a hot air balloon trip. I had an early start at 5.30am, when the tour bus picked me up from my campground. I have never been in a hot air balloon before so it was an exciting experience for me. It was great to see Mparntwe from a different point of view, a truly surreal experience watching as the town lit up with the rising sun.

I returned to Araluen Arts Centre for the Alice Springs Beanie Festival. It was amazing to see how creative people can be, I never knew there could be so many styles of beanies.

There was quite a big turnout of people. I grabbed some dinner from the food trucks and enjoyed the live band that played. We watched as the winners of the Beanie Fest were announced, and then headed home for the night.

Day 5

Today was our last day in Mparntwe and a weekend! We booked a one-day trip to Uluru but what we didn’t realise was that Uluru was five hours away. The bus driver was an excellent tour guide and told us lots of great facts and stories about the area. Did you know that there are over a million feral camels in Australia?

Our next stop was a place called Kata Tjuta or otherwise known as Mount Olga. Kata Tjuta has the most amazing rock formation, it kind of looks like a bunch of blobs all formed together. This place is a scared men’s site so I decided not to participate in the hike to the lookout points.

We got back on the bus, and we headed to the Cultural Centre where there were shops with art from the local artists. I fell in love with a painting from Nola Bennet, it’s called Irriya Nola. The painting represents two men telling stories about the rock holes of Irriya.

We got back on the bus and headed towards the big rock, our tour guide was very insightful and told us some of the stories that the Anangu people call Tjukurpa. The tour was wrapping up and our last stop was a beautiful sunset BBQ dinner. As we were waiting for our dinner more local artists came to sell their art, and of course I couldn’t help myself and bought more paintings.

Overall, it was an amazing trip and I learnt so much.

Dakota Dixon is First Nations Creative Producer at Australian Design Centre. Dakota produced the exhibition Indigenous Jewellery Project in Object Space Window Gallery and will be working on more First Nations focused projects coming soon.

Top image: Tjanpi Desert Weavers, Desert Mob 30 Exhibition, Alice Springs 2022. Photo: Dakota Dixon.

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