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Exhibition showcases art’s healing power in Alice Springs


The healing power of art is reflected in an exhibition of First Nations ceramic works originating from a new collaboration, which co-mingles visual art education and well-being activities for Purple House dialysis patients in Alice Springs.

Charles Darwin University (CDU) Academy of Arts has partnered with Indigenous-owned and operated health service Purple House, to present the exhibition that blends and celebrates the cultural diversity of Aboriginal communities in central Australia.

The exhibition’s title, Pana, Tjulpirpa, Pilki combines the words for clay in three different desert languages spoken by the ceramic artists who hail from the region’s Pintupi-Luritja, Pitjantjatjara and Kukaja communities.

It showcases the creative talent of First Nations women who are Purple House patients receiving dialysis treatment, while studying Certificate II in Visual Arts at CDU’s Alice Springs campus.

Purple House is a non-profit health organisation, based in Alice Springs, that aims to improve the lives of First Nations people with renal failure, support families and reduce the impacts of kidney disease in communities.

CDU Visual Arts Lecturer Melanie Robson said the art collection testifies to the technical skills in ceramics that each of the Purple House patients have developed and refined as part of their studies this year.

The ceramic techniques learned from their Visual Art Certificate II studies range from hand building and painting to press molding and screen printing on clay.

“Many of the women were already skilled painters, so they have been able to transfer those skills to the 3D medium of ceramic design,” Ms Robson said.

To this end, experimentation with clay screen printing has seen the CDU-Purple House partnership take its first steps towards developing ceramic homewares, with the artists, to date, creating designs for a small range of plates.

“The studies with a focus on ceramic production have provided opportunities for First Nations women to express their traditional storytelling in new ways,” Ms Robson said.

“A sense of joy pervades the collection which, in part, stems from the spirit of collaboration and camaraderie that the artists from different communities have fostered working and learning together as a group.

“Their new technical skills have also highlighted the potential for ceramic artworks to provide an alternative source of income.”

Purple House Chief Executive Officer Sarah Brown said that art has always been integral to Purple House and the lives of its patients.

“Art helps keep culture strong in communities, and it’s a powerful way to share knowledge and stories, and an important source of income,” Ms Brown said.

“Our patients get so much out of their ceramics classes at CDU each week and this is a fabulous opportunity for them to exhibit their artwork.”

Artists retain all profits from the Pana, Tjulpirpa, Pilki exhibition, which opens at 10am this Friday December 2, and runs until Saturday December 17 at Purple House’s Bush Balm social enterprise hub in East Side, Alice Springs.

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