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Ernabella Arts, South Australia


Ernabella Arts is a community based arts association through which artists can sell their work or come in and paint on a daily basis. Ernabella is known for its magnificent fabrics as well as printmaking on paper and paintings on canvas, linen and silk.

Ernabella is 440 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs, just south of the Northern Territory border in South Australia. The community was established in 1937 as a Presbyterian Mission and the surrounding country is home to approximately 400 Pitjantjatjara people. It is the oldest permanent settlement on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands.

Ernabella Arts began in 1948, making it the oldest Aboriginal Arts Centre. The centre employs a coordinator to assist members in marketing and developing their products.

The craft room was set up to provide employment for Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara women by applying their spinning skills to wool from the sheep run on the Mission station. From this beginning women and girls have produced art in many different media, all incorporating the distinctive Ernabella design.

Batik has been synonymous with Ernabella since the mid 1970s and the resultant silks have featured in many national and international exhibitions. Silkscreened fabrics have been produced there since the late 1980s.

Woollen work became less economical to produce by the late 1960s and the artists were introduced to batik as a fabric decoration technique. Batik quickly became a signature art form for Ernabella. Artists also used the batik design medium for hand-tufted rugs and carpets. Batik (lost wax) technique is also used to decorate a range of ceramic pieces made in the Ernabella ceramic studio which began in 2003.

Since attending a printmaking conference at Northern Territory University in 1993, Ernabella artists have also been making etchings and lithographs on paper in collaboration with printers from Northern Editions.

Using skills acquired in fabric design, Ernabella women have excelled in these print mediums and their work has been exhibited extensively in Australia and overseas. They have continued to make regular printmaking trips to Darwin.

Painting styles went through radical developments from 2002 and Ernabella painting now encompasses subjects drawn from Tjukurpa (Dreaming stories); mai putitja (bush food stories) and elements of the early anapalyaku walka (Ernabella style).

Ernabella work is represented in the major public galleries and in private collections in Australia and overseas and has been featured in a number of recently books on Aboriginal Art. The artists have their own Ernabella Arts Web site.

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