Located in the Yuendumu community on the Tanami Road between the Western Australian border and Uluru, the unassuming and remote Warlukurlangu Arts Centre is a powerhouse of Indigenous art and collaborative projects.

The Centre was formed in 1984 as a direct response to the need for community to create a viable industry and allow for economic growth in a way that was authentic to the people of Yuendumu community.

Centre Manager for the last 18 years, Cecilia Alfonso is so passionate about the Centre and its benefit to the Indigenous community, that it is palpable when you speak to her.

Ms Alfonso explained that in starting the Centre the artists wanted to make a record of their lives in art.

“[The initial art] was about recording stories and recording the culture of the Aboriginal people.”

In 1986, five of the original artists for the Centre swapped two pieces of art for a four-wheel drive with the Australian Government. This artwork become known as Toyota Dreaming and started the currency exchange of art that has helped fund the Yuendumu community.

Ms Alfonso described how this exchange was a way of reaching the wider world with Aboriginal Art.

“The artwork Toyota Dreaming was a means of [reaching a wider audience]. It allowed artists to engage with the world.”

Those five initial artists became the founding artists for the Centre and include legendary names such as Paddy Nelson Tjupurrula, Paddy Stewart Tjapaltjarri and Paddy Tjapaltjarri Sims.

From those small beginnings a co-operative was formed. Through working with communities and the Centre, Warlukurlangu Arts Centre can now boast being the longest running and most successful 100 percent Aboriginal-owned arts centre in the county.

However, maintaining that title is not achieved by resting on their laurels. The Warlukurlangu Arts Centre have turned art as a commodity into, well, an artform.

Over 15 years ago the Art Centre signed with Better World Arts and Alperstein Designs to collaborate and licence the works from the Centre and turn them into a vast array of items such as mugs, lanyards, kitchen utensils and even Christmas decorations.

The licencing of the artwork resulted in economic growth within the Yuendumu community. Ms Alfonso explained how the impact of licencing the artwork has contributed to the community.

“All the art is ethically licenced for the images used. [It also] means that the artists get a return for every sale,” Ms Alfonso said.

“When you buy from an arts centre it is very ethical. The artists get half of the return on the painting and half goes back to the centre.”

The Manager also outlined the fast growth that she has seen in her time at the Centre.

“The business has grown rapidly. [The Centre] now produces over 10,000 canvases a year and 825 people across the communities are deriving an income.”

Each year the arts centre has more and more communities joining the co-op as they can see the impact the work is having, Ms Alfonso said.

“The communities without arts centres see the benefit, but they don’t have access to the centres.”

This is something that the Warlukurlangu Arts Centre is changing by involving more outlying communities with projects.


Fashion forward

The Warlukurlangu Arts Centre is now breaking new ground, through its collaboration with high fashion brands such as North and Camilla.

The WARLU X Camilla collection includes many artists from the Warlukurlangu Arts Centre and is described as channelling “a traditional Aboriginal art aesthetic with distinct dot work that is universally unique and integral to Australian Aboriginal Art.”

Some of the collaboration’s artists include:

  • Julie Nangala Robertson
  • Murdie Nampijinpa Morris
  • Lynette Nangala Singleton
  • Selina Napangnka Fisher
  • Lawrence Jangala Watson
  • Jerusha Nungarrayi Morris.

The collaboration came about when Camilla Franks and her team visited the Warlukurlangu Arts Centre as part of her travels to gather inspiration for the brand’s 15-year anniversary collection, MOTHER.

The launch of the collaboration prints took place on September 15 and is available through Camilla’s online boutique.

To learn more about the collaboration, visit: https://au.camilla.com/blogs/camilla-world/warlu.

By Caris Duncan