Alice Springs: Any time is a good time to drop in at the Many Hands art centre. Manager Iris Bendor will warmly greet you and show you around the pleasant airy studio. You’ll notice everything is neatly in its place and the mood is relaxed and low key. More than likely you’ll meet a few of the centre’s artists going about their normal routines—choosing paint brushes, preparing sheets of paper, or perhaps just enjoying a cup of tea or a snack from the small kitchen at the far end of the studio.
Everyone is comfortable and feels at home yet this is most definitely a hard-working art centre. Paper and paints are spread out on large tables ready for the artists to begin work. There’s an interesting display along the wall and everywhere you look there are examples of high quality artwork. Outside there is a courtyard.
‘The artists work inside and out,’ explains Iris. ‘Some days we have lots of artists here and some days it’s quiet. They move around the centre as they wish but of course painting outside is popular when the weather is fine.’
The artists specialise in watercolours in the Albert Namatjira tradition. Gwenda Namatjira Reinhold Inkamala, Ivy Pareroultja and Lenie Namatjira have set up a table in the sunshine and are happy to explain their family relationships. They also talk a little about their paintings. For a person from a European background it’s easy to appreciate the colourful flowing landscapes and pictorial styles but of course there’s much more to know in terms of symbolism and dreaming. A hilly ridge, for example, is the woman from the west with long black hair.
Just behind the courtyard is the centre’s gallery, a neat hexagonal building, where some of the finest examples of the artists’ works are framed and displayed. Iris will point out particular features and tell you more about where the artists are from and the differences in their preferred techniques. The gallery is well worth a visit.
And yet there are so many other projects in which the centre is involved. The current one is the wearable works of art—the 50s-style skirts that are on show at Raft Artspace (supported by LUXLAB at iGLAM, part of UNSW’s art and design). An earlier commission is the mural that stands in one of the Alice Springs shopping plazas, and the recent exhibition in Sydney, entitled, ‘We are in Wonder LAND’, showing works by the centre’s artists Gloria Pannka, Hubert Pareoultja and the late Peter Tjutjata Taylor. In October 2015, Many Hands, with valuable support from the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, was also involved in the Tarnanthi Festival, which included a major exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Although the art centre comes under the auspices of Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation it is seriously thinking about going out on its own. ‘Many Hands is a great art centre,’ says the CEO of Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation, Scott McConnell. ‘I’m very much in favour of it incorporating in the near future.’
Regardless of what direction the artists take, there’s every indication that Many Hands will continue its important artistic legacy and go from strength to strength.
For more information: http://ngurart.com.au/about/the-art-centre
Photos: ORIC courtesy of Many Hands art centre
Gwenda Namatjira working on a piece
The Alice Springs mural project
From left to right: Reinhold Inkamala, Ivy Pareroultja, Lenie Namatjira with (standing) art centre manager Iris Bendor
Reinhold Inkamala with Ivy Pareroultja
Ivy Pareroultja holds up a recent work
Painting by Kevin Namatjira used as design for one of the skirts
The exhibition of 1950s-style skirts on display at Raft Artspace, Alice Springs
Skirt design: Lenie Namatjira, in partnership with the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education