In 2005 the artists of Kaltjiti Arts in the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands of northern South Australia decided to record their culture for future generations.
With Beverley Peacock, arts centre manager since 1990, they approached Diana James, Kaltjiti’s first art adviser 1975�“76, with the suggestion to collaborate on a book. A fluent Pitjantjatjara speaker, James has worked throughout the region for more than 30 years and gained a Ph.D in anthropology in 2006 for her work.
Like Geoffrey Bardon at Papunya and Winifred Hilliard at Ernabella, James’ life also became intrinsically interwoven with those of the artists.
From 2006, a series of extensive trips were made to the artists’ traditional country as they related to James the stories of their art, culture and those of their vast country, which covers some thousands of kilometres across South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Now this groundbreaking new book documents these stories along with the development of Kaltjiti Arts �“ from its humble beginnings in a primitive tin shed to a leading contemporary arts centre.
James also reveals why the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara did not start painting in acrylics consistently until almost 30 years after their Papunya countrymen, and explores the artists’ work in the batik, carving and weaving movements. On the artists’ encouragement, some never before published photographs of their forebears taken by anthropologist Charles Mountford in the 1940s are also reproduced along with rare pictorial vignettes tracing their 40 year development.
A rare blend of scholarly research and first hand account, Painting the Song makes an important contribution to the lexicon of Aboriginal cultural history and is destined to become a classic on the subject.