Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Convergence: The Making of the Canning Stock Route Project and Yiwarra Kuju Exhibition

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Convergence: The Making of the Canning Stock Route Project and Yiwarra Kuju Exhibition

Article excerpt


Back at home in Martu country, we keep telling people our stories and our culture, to anthropologists and archaeologists mainly, people who are coming and critiquing Jukurrpa (Dreamtime cosmology). And I think that is where we need to be careful. We need to tell the same things in art today- that we are living the Jukurrpa. It's not for outsiders to critique it, but we are completely immersed in it. And that's how, you know, people from the outside should see that too.

Curtis Taylor, 20121

Curtis Taylor's message conveys how important it is that Aboriginal people participate, decide, own and control the telling of their stories and histories, particularly through digital media. It is this necessary but complex aspiration that underlies the processes, practices and successes of the Ngurra Kuju Walyja (One Country, One People) Canning Stock Route Project2 and 'Yiwarra Kuju' exhibition. The core methodology of this multilayered arts and cultural project was to provide artists, elders and young people the means to share their stories in a way that reflected the social logic, historical sweep and cultural networks of the Western Desert. This resulted in more than two hundred and forty Aboriginal people and over one hundred non-Aboriginal people being involved in the project. It is the processes generated by the Canning Stock Route Project and the participation that made the 'Yiwarra Kuju' exhibition possible that I wish to explore in this essay. In keeping with the additive, evolving nature of the original project, this essay draws on a presentation made at the Same but Different: Experimentation and Innovation in Desert Arts inaugural forum in 2012. At that forum Curtis Taylor, a young Martu filmmaker, and I assembled some of the many stories that illustrated the project's aims.


The Canning Stock Route Project is about community, collaboration and reconciliation. It involves seventeen Aboriginal communities across the Pilbara, Midwest, Goldfields and Kimberley regions of Western Australia. The story is for all of us, for communities all across Australia, Aboriginal people telling our story and our history to the world.

It's about two-way learning, black and white, urban and remote, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. It involved 58 kinds of workshops in Country with young people and old people, with emerging and established artists and art centres. It gave all the different communities right across the desert a chance to shine. This has never happened before. The project gave us a chance to listen to each other, work and learn from each other.

Curtis Taylor, 20103

This quote from Curtis Taylor introduces the scope of a project that covered a considerable portion of Western Australia, physically and culturally. Following a proposal made by Tim Acker and I to FORM, a Perth-based cultural organisation, the project started in 2006.4 The initial project aims were modest: to explore the artistic and family links between some of the Western Desert's Aboriginal art communities.5 However, the project grew into a substantial alliance of art and cultural centres from throughout Western Australia's remote regions. The organisations included Mangkaja Arts and Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (Fitzroy Crossing), Ngurra Artists (Wangkajungka), Yulparija Artists (Bidyadanga via Short St Gallery), Paruku Indigenous Protected Area (Mulan), Martumili Artists (Newman, Punmu, Parnngurr, Nullagine, Jigalong and Kunawarritji), Papunya Tula Artists (Kiwirrkurra), Warlayirti Artists (Balgo), Kayili Artists (Patjarr), and Birriliburu Artists (Wiluna). The premise of the project was founded on a remote/regional arts development and community outreach program and its main aim was to produce an exhibition and publication that explored the complex history of the Canning Stock Route.6

From the beginning, the invitation to artists to participate stretched beyond a standard creative brief towards a deeper art and cultural history analysis, involving recording family connections and mapping these associations across the deserts. …

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