Arts / ‘Historic’ signing to restore justice

“HISTORIC” is the only way to describe this morning’s signing at the National Museum of Australia of a deed setting in motion the Namatjira Legacy Trust.

Signing of the Trust Deed by Delwyn Everard director of Arts Law, with (l) Lenie Namatjira and (r) Gloria Pannka

Lawyer Delwyn Everard and granddaughters of the late Hermannsberg artist Albert Namatjira, Lenie Namatjira and Gloria Pannka were there for the official signing of a document likely to have a far-reaching effect not just on the Namatjira family but on indigenous art at large.

The Legacy Trust is an initiative of Albert Namatjira’s family alongside the well-known “arts for social change” company Big hART and is proof that the arts can wield influence well beyond the stages and galleries it usually inhabits. The chief aim, it was explained by the Big hART project producer and trustee, Sophia Marinos, is to restore justice by returning the copyright to Namatjira’s descendants.

“The trust is not about the past, it’s about the future,” she said.

NMA director Matthew Trinca introduces the Ntaria exhibition

Since 1983 the Namatjira family have not earnt anything from copyright or royalties from reproductions of Albert Namatjira’s works, but with the expected expiry of royalties in 2029, the trust has big plans for the future.

National Museum director Matthew Trinca, described the late watercolour master as “one of Australia’s great artists”. In Albert and the family’s honour the Museum has launched a new exhibition about Ntaria/Hermannsburg, curated by Jennifer Wilson, which shows works by Albert, the two visiting artists and their cousin Clara Inkmala, all active members of the Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) Arts Centre in Alice Springs.

Shellie Morris singing at the opening

After singer Shellie Morris, who had flown in from Darwin for the occasion, entertained those present with her rendition of the song “As we walk together”, the two Namatjira granddaughters joined in explaining how they wanted to tell all Australians, but especially their descendants, the true story of Albert.

Pannka spoke first, identifying herself as the granddaughter of the famous Western Aranda man and declaring herself “proud and happy to be here on behalf of our big family”, which she said, “has been working towards getting Albert[‘s] story right… People know Albert but they don’t know his story”.

Pannka added: “When we were kids we didn’t know about copyright and when we found the family would not inherit, we were angry and sad.”

In 2009, she said they were approached by Big hART with an idea for setting things right and  went on a camping trip with them to talk about their ideas. The rest is history, a history that included taking Big hART director Scott Rankin’s play “Namatjira” as far as  London.

Lenie described how the play, in which she took part, had been in every big theatre around the country, and how she shook hands with the Queen, who showed her the painting by Albert that she owned and another one by her own father Oscar Namatjira.

Pannka explained how the important thing is to keep their culture strong, by teaching their own children the way of painting that they had been taught by Albert and their parents, passing on the tradition.

“He was really brave,” she said of the grandfather, “we must be brave too.”

Before the full formal signing took place, Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra woman and former head of Aboriginal Art at the National Gallery of Australia, Brenda L Croft, standing in for the absent Hetti Perkins, read a fiery speech in which Perkins, member of the Arrernte and Kalkadoon communities and daughter of Charlie Perkins, spoke of the institutionalised racism endured by Albert in overt, “subtle and insidious ways” so that he was defeated by bureaucracy even before he was a citizen. (Albert and his wife Rubina were the first Australian Aborigines to be citizens in their own country)

Big hART’s Scott Rankin’s said: “The trust hopes to facilitate a return of the copyright of Albert Namatjira’s work to the family and community and is also seeking to raise money to support the health, welfare, education and sustainability of the Namatjira families and extended communities – to ensure that the extraordinary Central Desert watercolour movement continues long into the future, benefiting many generations to come.”

As Perkins put it: “Today we write a new chapter.”

The Namatjira Legacy Trust is governed by a board of Trustees, and controlled by its members the Namatjira family. It is a charitable trust with deductible gift recipient status. All donations over $2 are tax deductible. To donate and find out more about the trust, visit namatjiratrust.org

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