Indigenous art excellence: A look at Desert Mob

This is sponsored content for Tourism Northern Territory

The colours on the paintings are as splendid as those in the Red Centre landscapes. Ochre and yellow, red, and orange. Stripes and dots, the abstract wiggle of dry riverbeds, the humps of rocks. You can see how geography has inspired painting here for countless generations – and how an ever-evolving culture continues to find its soul.

The annual Desert Mob at Araluen Cultural Precinct in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) brings together the artworks of any of 8000 artist members of 35 Central Australian Aboriginal Arts and Crafts Centres. The spectacular result is a terrific range of art mediums, styles and colours, and the best survey of contemporary Aboriginal art you'll ever encounter.

Artists from Barkly Arts on Warumungu Country (Tennant Creek), for example, use vivid colours and rhythmic motifs to detail life on cattle stations. Arrernte artists from Hermannsburg bring daily Red Centre scenes to hand-crafted terracotta and underglaze pots. Tjanpi Desert Weavers produce baskets and woven sculptures depicting desert creatures.

"Desert Mob is unique in presenting the Western Desert art which started the contemporary Indigenous art movement, and in showcasing what is happening with it right now," explains festival producer Carmel Young. "It's a survey of contemporary art featuring established artists, and also key in launching the careers of emerging artists."

Art and soul

Desert Mob is a nationally significant exhibition of Indigenous art from the desert regions of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia. For Indigenous artists, it's about exchanging stories and ideas and passing culture on to another generation. For visitors, it's a unique chance to speak to artists from remote communities and to understand, appreciate, share, admire and buy Indigenous art.

"The Beauty of Desert Mob is that artists come in from across Central Australia and engage with the public. Opening night especially is a highly charged and dynamic evening," says Young. Throughout the festival, expect artists' presentations, cultural performances, workshops, and plenty of mixing and mingling.

For Indigenous artists, Desert Mob is about sharing stories.

For Indigenous artists, Desert Mob is about sharing stories. Photo: Tourism NT / Desert Mob

This year is particularly exciting since Hetti Perkins, senior curator-at-large at the National Gallery of Australia, is curating the exhibition and mentoring Marisa Maher, an emerging curator at the Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) Art Centre, famously home of the Namatjira watercolour artists.

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Opening event Art Centres on Screen sees artists present their community and art centre through storytelling and personal histories captured in a series of short films. The Desert Mob Exhibition that follows exhibits hundreds of artworks from both well-established and up-and-coming artists, who push cultural and artistic expression in exciting new directions that display the confidence and innovation of desert art.

Mediums including painting, basket weaving, wood carving, prints, sculpture, and textiles. "You can expect a visual smorgasbord of beautiful treats and great artwork, which ensures the continuation of community desert art and culture," says Young.

You can even bring a piece of art home with you from the Desert Mob Marketplace, where you'll find not just paintings and sculpture but jewellery, fashion, ceramics, homeware and Tjanpi weaving.

Culture trail

Desert Mob is a fantastic chance to immerse yourself in the stories and art of one of the world's oldest cultures – and one that continues to demonstrate ever-changing artistic expression. But you'll want to stay longer, because Mparntwe (Alice Springs) is the hub of all things arty in the Northern Territory, and a great place to kick-start your exploration of the Red Centre.

The town has a host of Indigenous art galleries that have works from famous artists such as Minnie Pwerle and Albert Namatjira, but also art by emerging talent, whether watercolours, oils, or traditional dot paintings. You'll also want to visit Tjanpi Desert Weavers gallery and, outside town, Kathleen Buzzacott Art Studio for dot-painted ceramics and homeware.

A tour of local sites will help you understand Indigenous connection with the land and the spiritual significance of the landscapes that appear in art. Take a guided tour and meet local artists, share campfire stories, or visit sacred places; the Araluen Cultural Precinct alone has seven sacred sites, including a fabulous 300-year-old corkwood tree. In the surrounds of Alice Springs, you can visit Albert Namatjira's house in National Trust-listed Hermannsburg, see thousands of engravings and petroglyphs at N'Dhala Gorge, and visit the Ochre Pits used for millennia as a source of artists' material.

Then explore the landscapes often reflected in the art of the Central and Western Desert peoples. In the East and West MacDonnell Ranges that frame Alice Springs you'll see the same red scours, purple escarpments, orange cliffs and splotched wonders that are represented on canvas. Walking trails lead through fabulous gorge country; the 223-kilometre Larapinta Trail is a bushwalking challenge for the experienced. Even on shorter walks you can enjoy wonderful waterholes at Ormiston, Redbank and Glen Helen gorges. Simpson's Gap looks as if it has been cleaved through the ranges with a giant hatchet, and is home to rock wallabies and rare plants. White-barked gum trees stand out against soaring orange cliffs and blue sky: a colourful landscape to inspire and encourage the art and soul in all of us.

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Desert Mob Marketplace is on 10 September and Desert Mob Exhibition runs 8 September to 23 October 2022. For more information, see https://northernterritory.com/alice-springs-and-surrounds/events/desert-mob-2022.