NATIONAL NEWSPAPER UNDER FIRE AS DOT PAINTING ROW ESCALATES. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
As national media, including The Bulletin and Four Corners, descend on Central Australia to investigate what is touted as a major crisis threatening the future of the Aboriginal art industry, the expose of alleged dubious art practices, which touched off the flurry of media interest, itself rests allegedly on dubious journalistic practice. On the weekend of April 17 and 18 a photograph appeared on the front page of The Weekend Australian newspaper showing a woman, identified as Nellie Tolson Nakamarra, bent over a canvas, paintbrush in hand, with her father, the renowned Pintupi painter Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, in the foreground.The caption to the photograph described Nakamarra as "painting a work he [Tjupurrula] will later sign".Last Friday Nakamarra, who actually gives her name as Nellie Mark Nakamarra, told the Alice Springs News that she was not painting the canvas in the photograph. She said she had been asked by the Australian’s journalist, Susan McCulloch-Uehlin, to hold the brush while the photograph was taken. Nakamarra said the painting was not done by her, but by "the old man", pointing to her father.She appeared worried but adamant about this, as did her husband Jimmy Japaltjarri Pollard, who says he was present at the time.The News spoke to the couple in the back gallery of Michael Hollow's Aboriginal Desert Art Gallery in Todd Mall, in the presence of Hollow and of Tjupurrula himself.Tjupurrula, although not speaking, appeared to be listening to every word, and not surprisingly, appeared wary. The comments by Nakamarra and her husband are in agreement with the content of statutory declarations made by them that, among other documents, now adorn the front door of Hollow's gallery. (These statutory declarations carry a rider by a solicitor that the declarations were read out to the signatories and that they "appeared to understand and agree with its contents".)Nakamarra's and her husband's account describes a process – a common one in journalism – of a photograph being posed in order to tell a story. The journalistic and ethical status of such photographs rides on the caption. The caption on the front page of The Weekend Australian strives to give the photograph documentary credibility, to lend it the status of a visual proof of McCulloch's key point. However, if Nakamarra's statement is accepted, it would appear that The Weekend Australian may be throwing stones in glass houses: passing off an image as something it is not, in order to prove that someone else is doing the same thing.McCulloch's article accompanying the photograph relies largely on the contents of a statutory declaration by Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, which she will later defend as "prepared by a leading Alice Springs lawyer [Tony Morgan] according to principles set down in the High Court relating to the taking of statutory declarations from Aboriginal people and translated to Tjupurrula".A second statutory declaration by Tjupurrula, made at the Alice Springs Police Station on the same day as McCulloch's story broke, is also now displayed on Hollow's front door. That Tjupurrula made this second declaration, which in some points contradicts the first, signed just two days before, suggests at the very least that the process of obtaining the declarations from him, a man who speaks some English but is not literate, is not the reliable one that other interested parties would like it to be.Whatever the truth behind the contradictory documents, they have achieved one thing, which is to tarnish Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula's reputation. Dealer Hollow dismisses concern about Tjupurrula's career: "Nothing will happen to Turkey. He will continue to paint and I will continue to give him money."But at the same time Hollow says he cannot buy every painting that Tjupurrula produces, he couldn't afford to, and that Tjupurrula does indeed sell to other dealers.Hollow's reputation, already controversial in an industry full of accusations, counter-accusations and scuttlebutt, has also been tarnished, and indeed "outing" him would appear to be the main purpose of McCulloch's story, for which she has been praised in some quarters.Hollow says he is confident that the controversy will blow over, and perhaps he can afford not to be worried. He proudly showed the News his storerooms, full of literally thousands of canvasses which he says are by the greats of Aboriginal art from Central Australia, including Billy Stockman, the late E. Kngwarreye and M. N. Tjapaltjarri.He says he focusses only on the well-known painters, adding: "You don't make money on what you sell today. You make money on what you put away."While of course Hollow, and every dealer, needs the artists and their work, the power of money is all on the dealers' side. Hollow blithely says: "All you need to get into the Aboriginal art industry is money."In observing Tjupurrula at work in Hollow's gallery last week, surrounded by the comings and goings of family members, I was reminded of accounts of the employment of Aboriginal stockmen in the days before the equal wages decision of 1968, when the stockmen traded their labour for a return in rations for them and their family.Hollow freely talks about giving Turkey small amounts of money – $100, $200 – whether or not he has a canvas to sell, that he bought him a car for $3000, that he bought 30 blankets for the family at the onset of the cold weather. All this gets totted up of course against the price Tjupurrula can expect to get for his paintings."I look after the whole family," says Hollow. "If I didn't look after them they wouldn't be here."Respected artist Pansy Napangardi, Tjupurrula's niece, seemed in an enviably less dependent position when she arrived in Hollow's gallery with a big canvas, which she had painted at home, alone, to make a straight trade for $1300.As dealers need their artists, journalists equally need their stories, but again the power, especially for a journalist working for News Limited, is all on their side, fettered only by the possibility of legal suit.And use this power, McCulloch, her photographer and the sub-editors of The Weekend Australian unashamedly did. The first article was headlined: "Painter tells of secret women's artistic business: I signed relatives' paintings."If anyone doubts that the headline is intended to attach to the story an aura of scandal deriving from the Hindmarsh Island bridge controversy, consider the following week's effort: "The hand that signed the paper." This is the very title of the novel by Helen Demedenko, which became the subject of an embarrassing literary scandal focussed on issues of authenticity.The cover of The Weekend Australian's Review section of April 24-25, pointing to McCulloch's second article, implicates the entire western desert art movement, using as it does a typically earthy palette and dotting to create a design around the word "fake", also dotted.The article itself makes free with the use of the word "fake", blurring the distinction between the issues of Tjupurrula's practice and other controversies.McCulloch writes: "Before Tjupurrula's revelations the most widely publicised example of fake Aboriginal art had been the accusations in February by Tjupurrula's fellow Papunya artist [Clifford Possum ] Tjapaltjarri ...".She later allows Melbourne-based dealer Hank Ebes to speak lightly in relation to serious matters concerning Tjapaltjarri , without producing any concrete evidence.In answering the self-posed question of "how widespread is the faking, or misattribution, of Aboriginal art", McCulloch balances the opinion of "many dealers" that there is not a problem, against the opinion of "many others" that there is; and talks of "substantial concerns" – but again producing no evidence – over the authenticity of works by other renowned artists.McCulloch strangely does not seek the opinion of people without a vested commercial interest, in particular of the advocacy and referral bodies Desart and ANKAAA, which represent the art centres of Central Australia and the Top End.If she had, she would know that there is now dialogue between those bodies and the Governments of the Northern Territory and South Australia on issues of regulating the industry.She would also know of their expanding membership, of their plans to set up a bush artists' camp in Alice Springs, of their involvement in the licensing of designs by Aboriginal artists, of their plans to open their own commercial outlet in Sydney with the backing of ATSIC and the Rainbow Serpent gallery.They probably would also have urged her not to ride her story home on the back of one relatively powerless old man, for finally and sadly the most likely loser in all of this is Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, the creator of some masterworks of Australian art, and with him by association, other Aboriginal artists of The Centre.
KEEP ARALUEN STYLE - CALL FROM PUBLIC.
The community strongly favours retaining the style of the existing Araluen building when a new third gallery is added to the centre, according to Lance Robinson, president of the Friends of Araluen which received a Centenary of Federation grant of $2.3m for the project.The grant was made conditional upon the development of a number of options for the new gallery and consultation on them with the community.The gallery will create the extra room needed for Araluen to accommodate the Battarbee Collection, acquired last year by the Northern Territory Government for $600,000, as well as the Papunya Collection, owned by the Papunya Community.The third option, to locate the gallery where the administrative offices are presently, and to move the offices into a new mezzanine level, above the existing two galleries, appears to be the least intrusive on the site and existing building.The first option involves building a new, free-standing gallery in the carpark in front of the existing building. Mr Robinson believes this would destroy the architectural integrity and says the community does not like the idea either: "People feel strongly that Araluen should retain its distinctive shape."The second option would, like the third, locate the new gallery in the space presently occupied by the offices, but would relocate the offices into the verandah space extended into the driveway in front of the building.A walkway between the present facade and the office extension would allow some natural light to reach the stained glass, but the window would not be visible on approach to the centre.The advantage of both the first and second options is that they are affordable within the existing grant, whereas the third option is certainly the most expensive. The fine costing of the third option is currently being prepared by the Department of Transport and Infrastructure Development (formerly Transport and Works).Creating a mezzanine level over the existing galleries would take advantage of space underneath the roof, but it would also involve moving the existing glass wall of the atrium some three metres into the sculpture courtyard.However, Mr Robinson feels that this loss of space in the courtyard would be offset by the retention of the architectural integrity of the building. This option would also allow an easier flow of people moving from one gallery to another within the centre, and has the advantage of not creating a security problem.If "juggled right", Mr Robinson hopes that the grant will not only provide the new third gallery, but will also stretch to revising the air-conditioning and climate control for both the Araluen Centre and the Strehlow building, carrying out minor works of improved and stylistically consistent signage and paving between the two buildings, and to providing research space at Araluen, where visiting scholars could be supported in their research into art in Central Australia."In particular, the process of how Aboriginal art in the Centre reached its present status, from its genesis probably in the ‘thirties, has not been well documented," says Mr Robinson.Works to effect the third option would take about 20 weeks to complete, with the existing galleries having to close for some time. Options for maintaining the visual arts program, and especially regular events, are being explored. It is expected that work will start in March next year, with the new gallery coming in to use from mid-August and opening in November.
HOW TO GET THE LABOR PARTY OUT OF THE DOLDRUMS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The key to ending Labor's quarter of a century in the wilderness lies in breaking the "myth" that the CLP government's management is the reason for the Territory's relative prosperity.This is the view of Bob McMullan (pictured), Federal Labor front bencher and former national secretary of the ALP.He was in the Territory last week to assist with the restructuring of the Labor Party here."There is a myth abroad that the economic development of the NT is driven by the wonderful policies of the CLP government," Mr McMullan said in an interview with the Alice News."There is absolutely no evidence to support that."Whoever is the government in the NT, the massive investment in defence spending and housing, which is driving the economy, would continue."It was initiated under a Federal Labor government, and is continuing under a Federal coalition government, because it is in the national interest."If the Labor Party, the CLP or some other party was elected to govern the Territory, that expenditure would still go on."He says the massive Commonwealth funding for the NT – at a per capita level about five times greater than the national average – is also likely to continue, no matter who's in power in Darwin."The [Federal] Grants Commission grants to the Northern Territory aren't conditional on who's the government [in the NT]."They come on the basis of a need assessed by the Grants Commission."The economic outcomes in the Territory are not significantly affected by who is the Territory government."Once that myth is broken, when people start to realise that the investment is going to go on whoever is the government, [then the political debate can focus] on who's going to be more honest and accountable in using the public finance, who's going to be better for the schools, hospitals and child care and welfare issues, and whether there's a job [for locals] on the end of it."Then you start to get relevant to the day to day lives of people."If we can get the attention focussed back on those issues, and shatter the myth that somehow or other that defence spending is driven by the wonderful policies of the CLP, then we'll raise the possibility of [Labor] winning a Territory election."Mr McMullan says the strategy announced recently by NT Labor Leader Clare Martin, that she would ask NT Senator Trish Crossin to gain through the Federal Estimates Committee process information about NT Government spending, "is the second-best alternative but for the Opposition it's the best we can do."The best alternative is to have a government with a decent commitment to proper mechanisms of accountability."The sort of arrogance that emerges after you've been in power for 25 years ... you see it here."You don't have freedom of information, you have freedom from information," says Mr McMullan.In the NT "you don't have the scrutiny of funding decisions, [nor] the effectiveness of Parliament as a check on the executive government, [nor] the effective independence of the public service. Those mechanisms of accountability that drive honest government are absent here."This government reeks of the Bjelke Petersen era. It is the only government left in Australia that does."It can't go on like this forever."The best mechanisms are Territory mechanisms that are driven by Territory people saying ‘we want accountable government, and if this lot is not, we'll get one that is'."The Estimates Committee can look at the relationship between the Commonwealth and the Territory, and that's important."It can look at some aspects of outcomes, but it can't replace domestic accountability."The [Martin - Crossin] exercise is going to be important to watch. "It's got potential to do good - but we'll see how much good."It's better than nothing, which is what we've got at the moment."Mr McMullan says it's not unique in Australia to have a wide gap between state and Federal votes (the NT's sole Federal seat has been changing between Labor and the CLP, but the CLP is maintaining overwhelming majorities in the Territory Parliament).Mr McMullan says voters in other parts of the nation, too, "like to have different representation in different levels of government".However, he needs to dig deep to find parallels to NT Labor's decades in Opposition: in South Australia, in the Sir Thomas Playford era, the ALP was out of power for 34 years.Mr McMullan, who will be reporting to national Labor president Barry Jones, thinks giving the Territory party organisation more autonomy will raise its appeal to the voter.He says Labor needs to look at "whether we need to modify the party process to take into account the geography of these big, sparsely populated areas."You don't have a set of rules for Balmain and Collingwood and try and make them apply for Borroloola."He's saying to the party, "hey, why don't you just break out of that conventional mould of thinking that you've imported from somewhere else."Rather than accepting what the current rules specify, a member could be "someone who's prepared to make financial contributions, who is committed to the party's principles, and who works for the election.ACTION"How do we devolve power to where the action is?"He says there should be "more autonomy in the branch, decentralise it a bit."That's an issue people here feel strongly about."Membership should be "more open, more inclusive."People should feel more ownership of the party ... that they can more effectively be involved, that the decision making is more decentralised."It shouldn't be hard to join the Labor Party ... it should be easy to get a say in the things that affect you."People in all organisations sometimes feel that people outside aren't as committed as them and they build barriers against people coming in."The NT [Labor Party] rules need to be looked at [so that] they not only formally make it easy for people to join, but that they practically do that."Mr McMullan says he's been told the Alice branch has 80 members.He says interest in joining the local branch should be fostered, for example, through open forums on current issues, demonstrating "practical involvement in current issues".But Territory Labor's key objective should be to break entrenched attitudes: "Once it becomes apparent that this government is not going to be there forever, many of the disgruntled people who voted for it because they think they have to, will come out and make it clear that they don't want to do that any more."It happened to Joh Bjelke Petersen, and it will happen here."
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