JAPINGKA is a Fremantle success story, the indigenous art gallery still going strong after 20 years when many others have come and gone.
Ian Plunkett and David Wroth established the gallery in 1995, but have been involved with Aboriginal art much longer.
“We have been in this field for over 30 years,” Plunkett says.
For five years a massive painting by Mijili Napanangka Gibson has hung behind the desk, attracting many tyre-kickers, but none with pockets deep enough.
From a remote desert community on the WA/SA border, the artist was nearly 80 when she started the huge canvas and took nine months to complete it.
“She was a bit of a character, which shows in her art,” Plunkett says.
This week the artwork heads to the US after an American couple fell in love with it, forking out a tidy $100,000.
“[The] wife in particular was struck by it,” Plunkett says.
Members of a major US philanthropic organisation, the pair has promised to gift it back to Australia on their death.
“I hate to see a painting of this importance and beauty leave the country, [but] it’s reassuring to know at the end of the day, it’s really just on loan and it will be coming back.”
Fremantle Prison was integral to Japingka’s birth: it was there that Wroth met inmate Jimmy Pike, while teaching art.
Pike’s distinctive work became synonymous with Desert Designs, owned by Wroth and Steve Culley, and Plunkett established the Desert Designs brand in Europe.
Plunkett is a founding member of the Australian Indigenous Art Trade Association, and of the Indigenous Art Code of Conduct, established to protect Aboriginal artists from carpet baggers.
When Wroth and Plunkett established Japingka they wanted to ensure they represented indigenous art, and weren’t simply selling pieces: respect for their artists and their various cultures is intrinsic to them.
Japingka’s mission is to see Aboriginal art in every Australian home.
“It’s a great way to break down prejudice,” Plunkett says.
Japingka has sold to every major Australian gallery, “and to all the main collections you can name”.
Napanangka Gibson’s work may now have flown the coop, but two new exhibitions pass the artistic batons onto new generations of emerging indigenous talent.
In gallery 1 Pintupi artist Walangkura Napanangka’s daughters, Debra Young Nakamarra and Katherine Marshall Nakamarra are exhibiting.
In gallery 2 Gabriella and Michelle Possum carry on the legacy of their world-famous dad, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri.
The duel exhibitions are on till November 14.
by JENNY D’ANGER