Besides blistering heat, the world’s only land regatta and the whole middle-of-nowhere thing, Alice Springs is known for one thing: Aboriginal art. In fact it’s said that (per capita at least) there’s more galleries in Alice Springs than anywhere else in Australia. Not hard when you have so few ‘capitas’, but still…
You could spend a happy afternoon just browsing the galleries and print shops that line Todd Mall in the centre of town, but there are a bunch of smaller spaces and artists communities that are well worth a visit. Travellers can browse, learn a bit of history about local Papunya Tula and Utopia artists, and even watch a few resident pros at work. And if you’d like a piece of your very own to take home, there are plenty of art centres to suit every hip pocket.
Here are our favourite spots in town for world-class Aboriginal art.
Araluen Arts Centre
No visit to The Alice would be complete without a visit to Araluen. It’s the epicenter of the town’s visual art and performance scene: a collection of little galleries and a snug professional theatre. Most of the focus is on contemporary Aboriginal art, with a mix of local feature artists and travelling exhibitions passing through. The jewel in the Centre’s crown though is the Albert Namatjira gallery, which houses a selection of paintings from the famous artist. Araluen was built around a 300 year-old Corkwood Tree, which you can check out in the Sculpture Garden – it’s a sacred site for the local Arrernte people. Araluen’s website has a list of upcoming events; well worth a look if you’re planning a few nights in Alice Springs.
One for the serious collectors. If you’re after a beautiful indigenous painting for your wall at home, head to Ironwood Arts on Brumby Road in the little satellite town of Ilparpa (just outside Alice Springs proper). They stock a great mix of known and emerging local artists, and each canvas comes with a little photo and bio of the painter, along with a certificate of authenticity. Good for peace of mind. There are sculptures from local artists too if your tastes run to the more 3-dimensional. Ironwood is open by appointment only, but if you’re serious about your Aboriginal art, it’s worth it. Just give them a call and set up a viewing time – the drive from the centre of Alice isn’t too far.
Iwantja Arts and Crafts
If you’re in Alice Springs and you’re not visiting some of the smaller indigenous communities nearby, you’re doing The Outback wrong. Places like Iwantja, about 120 clicks south of Kulgera, are what this region is all about. The Arts and Crafts centre there is a self-supporting, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to training and showcasing the best local talent. And the cool bit is you can actually go and watch some of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara artists at work, even talk to them about their style and their story. You won’t get experiences like this in Alice Springs itself – you have to go looking for them. The Iwantja Community Gallery is inside the Arts Centre and has a range of acrylic paintings, etchings, woven baskets and leather goods for sale. And you can rest easy knowing every dollar is going to a good cause.
Santa Teresa is a little community of about 500 people, 80km south-east of Alice Springs, surrounded by rock art and ceremonial indigenous sites. Culture beats strong here, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Keringke Arts Centre. Keringke is a working studio environment where artists can work on canvas, ceramics, furniture and (weirdly) homemade guitars. The centre was built in 1989 (a pioneer for its time) and is 100% owned by the Eastern Arrernte People – all profits go back to helping the community. Keringke style isn’t like other aboriginal art. Santa Teresa women tend to work in very bright colours, pulling influences from dozens of Dreamtime stories around the country and the landscape. The result is something fresh, original and very contemporary.
Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery
Mbantua is smack bang in the middle of Alice Springs itself, just near the corner of Todd St and Gregory Terrace. It’s one of the more popular galleries for tourists. You won’t get quite the same community feel as you will in Santa Teresa, but it’s a good starting point if you’re looking to get a feel for the local style. The gallery represents over 200 local artists from the Utopia region (north-east of Alice). There are smaller prints and jewelry, as well as larger original canvases. The gallery even has its own range of giftware (Utopia Giftware). You can buy wine coolers, notepads and lots of other knickknacks, all decorated with aboriginal designs from up-and-coming local artists. Well worth a stop if you’re passing through Todd St Mall.
Ready to see ‘The Alice’ for yourself? We’ve got group tours departing year round. Check them out.
Feature image c/o netsvictoria.com