Located near Derby in the Kimberley region, the Mowanjum Arts Centre represents three major language groups: Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunambal. The centre is not only an arts space but a living cultural centre that serves as a stronghold for preserving and promoting the heritage of these communities.
Mowanjum Art Centre, built in the likeness of the Wandjina spirit with the festival ground to the left. Mowanjum Arts©
Mowanjum Arts Centre originated from the community's strong desire to keep their cultural heritage alive. The three language groups it represents were relocated several times due to various reasons, including government policies and environmental circumstances, before settling in the Mowanjum Community in the 1950s. The continual dislocation disrupted the community’s connection to their traditional land and culture.
The establishment of the Mowanjum Arts Centre in 1998 signified a pivotal move towards preserving and revitalising their cultural heritage. The centre operates on a not-for-profit basis, with the income generated from art sales returning to the community and artists, fostering a sustainable and independent economic model for the community.
The Mowanjum Arts Centre showcases an expansive collection of Indigenous art. It includes traditional and contemporary works spanning multiple mediums, including painting, printmaking, sculpture, and textile art.
The artistic narrative at Mowanjum draws heavily from the Wandjina, the supreme spirit beings and creators of the land and culture. Wandjina are characterised by their large, haloed heads, and lack of a mouth, often painted in red, black and yellow on a white background. These figures are a recurring motif in the art from this region, appearing in ancient rock art as well as contemporary canvas paintings and prints.
Mowanjum Arts Centre plays a vital role in imparting knowledge about Aboriginal culture. It runs educational programs and cultural awareness training for local schools, tourists, and other interested groups. Visitors can participate in art workshops, where they learn about the ancient symbols and techniques used in Indigenous art.
The centre also holds the annual Mowanjum Festival, a significant cultural event in the Kimberley region, where the traditional stories of the Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunambal people are shared through dance, music, and art. This festival offers an immersive experience into the rich cultural traditions of these communities.
Dancers at Mowanjum Festival, Mowanjum Arts Centre
In 2010, the Mowanjum Cultural Archive was established within the centre. It serves as a repository of important cultural materials, including photographs, audio recordings, videos, documents, and artwork. The archive plays a pivotal role in cultural preservation and is an invaluable resource for cultural research and education.
Mowanjum Arts Centre has made a significant impact in the preservation and promotion of Indigenous culture and art. It provides a platform for Aboriginal artists to showcase their art on an international level, increasing their visibility and recognition. Furthermore, it serves as a significant cultural resource for the younger generation, fostering their connection to their ancestral heritage and equipping them with the knowledge and skills to carry forward the artistic traditions.
In conclusion, the Mowanjum Arts Centre stands as an enduring testament to the resilience and cultural richness of the Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunambal communities. Through its various initiatives and programs, it continues to play a pivotal role in preserving, revitalising, and promoting the unique heritage and art of these Aboriginal groups. As we appreciate the art and culture presented by the Mowanjum Arts Centre, we are reminded of the profound importance of Indigenous cultural preservation and the incredible depth and richness of Aboriginal heritage.