Karrikajurren: Creating Community with an Art Centre in Aboriginal Australia

01st December 2006

Sally K. May

PhD, Centre for Cross Cultural Research, The Australian National University, April 2006

In this thesis I explore the artistic community surrounding the primary place of art production and sale in the region, Injalak Arts and Crafts (henceforth, Injalak), an art centre established in Kunbarlanja in 1989. The premise of this thesis is that the group of people (not solely artists) that interact with and through Injalak form a unique community in Kunbarlanja. This is based on the argument that ‘community’, rather than a geographical notion, is a condition in which individuals are enmeshed in a web of ‘meaningful’ relationships with others. Using multiple methods including a focus on historical research, oral histories, statistical analysis and reflexive ethnography, I discuss the social context of art production in Kunbarlanja with a focus on Injalak as a core centre for art production and artist interaction. I argue that Injalak as a place activates and draws together particular social groupings to form a sense of identity and community. It is the nature of this community that is the primary focus of this thesis as well as the final artworks which bear witness to the relationships and historical events.

I present this story in two parts; personal and collective histories and place, people, and community. The first part begins with a focus on the long history of art trading around Kunbarlanja and an exploration of the influence of this history on the emergence of Injalak in the 1980s. Yet, rather than approaching the organisation as one that developed in isolation, this thesis attempts to place it in its community and regional setting. The individuals and organisations who have been directly involved with the production and marketing of art by Indigenous artists working in Kunbarlanja and who have been influential in establishing particular patterns of art trading are another primary concern. In line with this, I explore some general issues surrounding outside influences on the establishment of community art centres in remote communities around Australia. This includes changing government policies and the nature of the art market. In the second part of this thesis, I present stories and findings from my ethnographic fieldwork in context with statistical results on artwork and artists collected during fieldwork from 2001 to 2005. These stories come together through a merging of statistical results with ethnographic interactions and the theories and histories presented in the first part of this thesis.

Sally K. May
Karrikajurren: Creating Community with an Art Centre in Aboriginal Australia
December 2006
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Thesis Abstracts
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