New Work from Spinifex Arts Project | New York

13 July 2023 – 25 August 2023

About Exhibition

Since recently opening our new space on the Upper East Side in New York, a fantastic opportunity has arisen to continue to bring the most exciting and innovative of Australia’s First Nations artists to the attention of both local and international audiences. In celebration of the recent release of the book, Sun and Shadow: Art of the Spinifex People, D’Lan Contemporary New York is thrilled to present a select group of new works from established and emerging artists of the Spinifex Arts Project.


It is easy to view this exhibition of paintings as you see it: as a group of mesmerising pictures hung upon well-lit, clean walls, in a perfectly curated gallery space. But these pictures are more than you see, or don’t see. Let us move into the fabric of their meaning.

The Spinifex people know what it is to have one’s very existence pushed aside as an impediment to another people’s aspirations for global dominance. In the last mid-century, as a culturally rich society traversed the Great Victoria Desert in the centre of Australia, the government of the country was acquiescing to a higher power, that of the British Empire, and enabling a portion of this country to be used for the detonation of atomic weapons.

That this portion of Country was populated by the Spinifex people was a cursory observation, with native patrol officers sent out to remove any ‘natives’ from the immediate vicinity. Despite the apparent compassionate awareness of these officers, the Spinifex people were dispossessed of their lands and, with some irony, taken 1000 kilometres south-west to Cundeelee mission – an American evangelical Christian mission, an action that, in hindsight, did prove to be for their very own safety and survival.

People remember seeing the ‘big smoke’ from various vantage points, the immediate fallout from the detonation of nuclear bombs resulting in a widespread area becoming contaminated. It took many years for the desert environment to be systematically cleared of its inherited people; as they walked through the silent country past water sources with dead fauna nearby, some questioned where all their kin had disappeared to. People quickly became frightened, and that fear was used to keep them at a safe distance, to avoid interference or unwarranted attention. But they did not rest.

The Spinifex people kept alive their spiritual connection to a land they never ceded and to a culture they lived daily. After thirty years of exclusion from their lands, they began the long journey homeward, resolving to enshrine ownership by lawful means through a court of Native Title.

Image c/o Spinifex Arts Project

It was here with the arduous task of proving rightful ownership that the Spinifex people portrayed their cultural authority and knowledge in two major collaborative paintings depicting the breadth of Country that is the Spinifex Lands. This is where the important and tangible correlation between painting on canvas, cultural knowledge and the eventual return of rightful lands was first made. But it did not stop there.

A creative movement was now underway, with the Spinifex Arts Project facilitating painting camps on people’s significant Country, some which they had not seen since being removed thirty-plus years prior. And, in 2000, the Spinifex people were finally granted Native Title over 55,000 square kilometres of the Great Victoria Desert of Western Australia. This completed a story of the resilience and survival of a people deprived of their spiritual habitat, but it also capacitated the beginning of another story, one of cultural celebration and blossoming creativity.

The artists of the Spinifex Arts Project depicted the sacred: written in the very landscape they painted. It was embraced publicly and commercially, with works by senior artists in constant demand. And as the twenty-five year milestone of this project passes, it is easy to reflect on the trajectory of an art movement that began as evidence of birthright and continues as confirmation of the creativity born from the very Country those same people first depicted. If you look closely, you will see this story written upon these walls.

BRIAN HALLETT Spinifex Arts Project

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