Volunteer and intern stories

Maddy Power – Intern

In October 2019, I had the opportunity to undertake a 4 week internship at Ikuntji Artists. I chose to come to Haasts Bluff after graduating from a Bachelor of Fine Arts/Visual Art in 2018 and wanted to gain some more professional experience and learn more about contemporary Aboriginal Art.  I had a great time working in the art centre and learnt a lot of things that I wouldn’t if I hadn’t come to Ikuntji. While working in the art centre I mostly worked on photographing and editing artworks for cataloguing, stretching and priming canvases and screen-printing t-shirts. I also helped with day-to-day tasks such as cleaning the art centre, getting tea and coffee for artists and watering the garden. My favourite part was being able to work with artists and talk to them about their work and hear their stories.

While staying in Haasts Bluff, I lived in a donga next to the art centre which I shared with another volunteer and contractors who came to work at the art centre. In the donga I didn’t have any phone reception or access to internet but I was able to access both during the day at the art centre. Adjusting to living in a remote community and being immersed in a different culture was difficult at times, with the most challenging part being navigating the language barrier, which I did not anticipate. While in the community I attended two funerals, one of which was for an artist from the art centre who had recently passed away. On the night of one of the funerals I also attended a community church sing along which was really beautiful and heart-warming to witness after the day’s events.  I was also able to go on a few walks and drives around the community and the surrounding area which is in one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.

Throughout my time at Ikuntji I always felt very safe and welcomed by the community. Haasts Bluff is a very peaceful and warm community, and even though it is very remote, it never felt as isolated as I expected. I feel so honoured and privileged to have been able to come and have this experience at Ikuntji Artists. I learnt and experienced more than I could have imagined and can’t wait to return to the Northern Territory.

Image courtesy of Maddy Power.

Christopher Dewar – intern

In 2013 I was awarded the amazing opportunity to undertake a 10 week internship at Ikuntji Artists. The internship was provided through The National Art School’s Aboriginal Art Centre Internship program. As a practising artist the opportunity to explore indigenous culture and art practice in the birth place of the 1970’s aboriginal art movement was invaluable. It was an experience that not only influenced my art making and identity but my understanding of Australian history and identity. The people and friendships that I met and made throughout my time in Haasts Bluff will always be with me.

Image courtesy Alison Multa
Image courtesy Alison Multa

Lily Bennion and Cameron Franklyn – interns

I was given the opportunity to volunteer at Ikuntji Artists in Haasts Bluff NT through the University of Western Australia after having done a semester’s work on Contemporary Aboriginal Art in my Art History degree. This experience was incredibly worthwhile and exposed me to the inspirational people and the landscape imbedded in so many works.

My boyfriend, Cameron Franklyn and I went to stay with Chrischona Schmidt in Haasts Bluff for three weeks and even though we had an enriching experience, we both wished we had been able to stay for much longer. Originally expecting intense heat, and uncomfortable accommodation, we were pleasantly surprised with the mild temperature and the fully equipped room we were given. The community was also incredibly welcoming, we were even invited to a wedding after having been there for a week.

The work we did throughout the internship was mainly artwork based as I completed an archiving project organizing artworks form the 1990s onwards into the new online system.

This was useful, exposing me to the databases used by art centres, as well as the plethora of artworks completed over the decades. My understanding of these works was aided by many trips out of the community driving through the West MacDonnell Ranges to Roma Gorge, Winbarrku and Glen Helen Gorge, as well as many walks and hikes. Experiencing this landscape brought me so much closer to the artworks produced by the artists and deepened my understanding of them.

image courtesy Ikuntji Artists

Julia North – volunteer

My name is Julia, I have an academic background in Anthropology and Sociology through the University of Sydney. In 2014 I have been lucky enough to visit Ikuntji twice as a volunteer. I was quite unsure what to expect from my time in the community; how I would go in such a different cultural context to that which I have grown up with; and how I would ensure I was contributing as much as possible to the Art Centre. I have been overwhelmed with the amount of time and patience Chrischona and members of the Haasts Bluff community dedicated to guiding me through my stays; to exposing me to a myriad of roles and experiences within the Art Centre; and to making me feel a valued and welcomed member of the community. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the ongoing and vibrant cultural practice that continues to underpin everyday life both within the Art centre and the wider community. Artists kindly permitted me to observe them in the process of art making and took time to take me aside and explain, with pride, the Dreaming significance that underlies each of work. The landscape is indescribably beautiful. The variety of texture, colour and form that surround you in this remote community provide endless inspiration for anyone like myself with a creative bent. In this context strong bonds to people and country are quickly formed, and my experiences in the Art Centre have left an indelible mark on my identity. If you are open to learning and experiencing a LOT, and willing to knuckle down and work hard at very rewarding work, I cannot recommend this experience highly enough.

Image courtesy of Ikuntji Artists
Image courtesy of Ikuntji Artists

Melanie Greiner – intern

In 2013, I completed an internship for eight weeks at the Ikuntji Artists Aboriginal Corporation in Haasts Bluff funded through the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). Working at the art centre was a great experience and unique opportunity to get to know more about Australia’s indigenous art world and the people who vividly contribute to it. During my stay I was introduced to all areas of the art centre business including studio works, office works, sales and renovations. As a Master of Arts student in anthropology at the Freiburg University I enjoyed taking part in everyday community life, to learn about its people and their stories. Highlights have been the Korean Artists Exchange – enabling trips to the breathtaking country, the Desert Mob Festival and, last but not least, the courteous hosts, quiet evening walks and thoughtful conversations.

image courtesy Christopher Dewar
image courtesy Christopher Dewar

Emma Kirby – intern

In the winter of 2014 I came to Ikuntji Artists for 10 weeks as an intern. I had recently graduated from The National Art School and was lucky enough to receive their Aboriginal Art Centre Internship award. I had studied Aboriginal art however, I was aware that reading stuff in books is one thing and touching the red dirt is another. Coming to Ikuntji I tried to prepare myself for the worst, but the reality was I was met with incredible warmth and patience from the community. The work at the arts centre was great – I got to spend time with the local artists, visiting artists and workers that come through, I stretched and primed canvases, mixed paints, made tea, helped do a stocktake, and even cleaned the artists toilet. Chrischona was careful to give me projects I could call my own, and that used my skills (including helped set up this website and a mailing list and EDMs), this meant I really felt I could contribute, and there was never a dull moment. I take away many happy memories, of beautiful landscapes, trips out country and warm evenings, the Ikuntji Artists Festival, a wedding and wonderful shared meals, conversations and connections.

Image courtesy Emma Kirby
Image courtesy Emma Kirby