If you have not been to the Desert Mob Exhibition, Symposium and MarketPlace in Mparntwe (also known as Alice Springs), then put it in your diary for next year as you will never experience anything like it. Spanning 29 years and still going strong, the three-day event showcases and celebrates art from some of the world's oldest and richest living cultures, and also provides visitors the opportunity to source art directly from Aboriginal owned and operated art centres.
Desert Mob opens with an exhibition of the finest work produced in the region over the year, where some of the most senior and critically acclaimed Aboriginal artists rub shoulders with the best emerging talent. If you are keen to purchase from the ‘big show’ then you will need to arrive early to join the queue of national and international museum and gallery curators, art collectors, art dealers and others jostling for their pick of the artworks.
The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts spoke at the exhibition opening, and enjoyed a walk-through with some of the artists.
Day two sees the incomparable artists’ symposium, where time slows down and the desert stories unfurl. This year, among other presentations, Barkly Regional Arts showcased new art created in response to the repatriation of historic Warumungu language recordings, Papunya Tjupi Artists spoke of the men 's art and cultural revival, including the opening of the first ever men's studio since the Western Desert painting movement began in the 1970s, and audiences were treated to a screening of the beautifully quirky animation by Bindi Mwerre Anthurre artist Conway Ginger, prosaically titled Ginger Conway and the Fly.
The coveted Desart Photography Prize was awarded to Cornelius Ebatarinja of Yarrenyty Arltere Artists for his work Because they are always here. This Prize was conceived in 2012 to encourage Aboriginal arts workers to use digital cameras in their art centres, but has expanded to include photographs by Aboriginal men, women, young, senior, established and emerging artists working within the Desart membership. According to Desart, “Participating photographers provide an intimate insight into their community lives, captured with a sense of comfort and familiarity that can only be conveyed by one who belongs.”
Desert Mob closes with the MarketPlace, where the queue long and the crowds around the art centre stalls are deep. At MarketPlace decisions need to be made quickly, otherwise someone else will snap up that artwork you knew was ‘the one’.
Desert Mob 2019 featured work by 250 artists from 33 art centres, of which 27 receive long-term operational funding through the Australian Government's Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program.
It also saw a demonstration of scannable QR coded labelling for authentic products. Run by Desart, the digital labelling trial is funded by the Australian Government and tests how best to give buyers confidence that the products that they are purchasing have been made and sourced ethically.
As with every other year, it is not clear whether the ‘mob’ in Desert Mob refers to the artists, arts workers and art centre managers that come into town from the desert to show off their wares, or the mob of art consumers that descend on the usually sleepy Mparntwe. Perhaps it is both – an event where the two mobs become one through their shared passion for art.
Image caption: Judith Inkamala from Hermannsburg Potters discussing coil-pot making with Minister Fletcher at the Desert Mob exhibition opening.