Trying to find urban Aboriginal art? Here’s an Artists Co-operative gallery in Sydney that features contemporary Aboriginal art and crafts from NSW.
Most Aboriginal art you’ll see for sale in Australia is the art of the central or western deserts. There’s also quite a bit from Arnhem Land. Not a lot of urban indigenous art from New South Wales artists though.
One place that’s trying to redress this is Boomalli, an Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in Sydney.
Boomalli Aboriginal Art Gallery
The co-operative was established in Sydney in 1987 and has managed to survive through many ups and downs. Today it is based in Leichhardt, where it has a large exhibition space in Flood Street, about a hundred metres from Marketown shopping centre.
What will you find there?
The gallery specialises in work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists living and working in New South Wales.
These are generally not artists living a traditional lifestyle.
You’ll see work by artists who may be second, third or fourth generation Sydney city dwellers, for whom the traditional life is no longer practically possible or even desirable.
Or they may live in smaller New South Wales towns, but these are not remote communities. Artists showing at Boomalli are very much part of contemporary Australia.
So what results?
Contemporary Aboriginal Art and Crafts
Lots of collaborative exhibitions, with various groupings of artists. Many are based around specific regions or backgrounds. Some will be showing artists with formal training in Western European fine art techniques.
Others are the result of artists coming through workshops and development programs supported by State government. Many groups organise their own skill development, working together or with outside artists to develop their skills.
The resulting exhibitions might be based an any number of materials. Along with the canvases on the walls you might find prints, photography or watercolours, Or there could be weaving, felting and pottery displayed. Boomalli often has good examples of all these media and techniques.
The gallery’s collection may include wooden objects, woven baskets, bags made from natural materials and Aboriginal art cards to view and buy. Eclectic. You might just find that one thing that’s been eluding you so far.
Boomalli often works with regional galleries to hold collaborative Aboriginal art and crafts exhibitions.
Members’ shows are a regular part of the calendar. Boomalli’s artists are shown in many national and regional galleries and a number have exhibited overseas. As well as Member’s shows, artists can be hung in solo exhibitions.
Students find mentoring here, with the annual Eora Art Exhibition featuring their work.
And the broader Sydney events calendar is reflected in other collaborations – with the LGBTI community for the Mardi Gras, with non-aboriginal artists for inter-cultural events.
Aboriginal Artwork Reality Check
Buying from a co-operative is a bit different from buying Aboriginal paintings from a commercial gallery.
A big plus is that it avoids the sometimes unscrupulous middleman in the transaction between buyer and artist as outlined in Buying an Aboriginal painting.
The co-operative is run by its members. Like many artistic endeavours it’s always short of funds. It relies on co-operative members and well-wishers to generate funds and on volunteers to keep the gallery open. And artists need to spend time on their work.
So, although this Aboriginal art gallery is theoretically open from 1100 – 1600 (11 am to 4 pm) Wednesday to Sunday you can go there during those hours – as I did – and find it closed.
Don’t put it in the too-hard basket just because of that, though. Its art is vibrant, it’s local and it can be less expensive than Aboriginal paintings in commercial art galleries.
Just make sure you call ahead to check that it’s open before you go.