by Diana James
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.
Published in partnership with Kaltjiti Arts.
'It has set the standard in Australian art publishing that other publishers will have to beat.'
Dick Kimber, historian and anthropologist, Alice Springs launch, 2009
'A landmark book of vibrant art.'
Louise Nunn, The Advertiser, 2009
'The first detailed account of the region's art...James, fluent in western desert lkanguage, reaches deep into the thought-world of her artist friends and brings out the sources of contemporary art-making in the APY lands. Stereotypes are broken in her narrative; myths fall. An intriguing account.'
Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian, 2009
'Painting the Song is that rare work that balances history, anthropology, and art criticism and succeeds at all three...It's not often that an "art book" can seduce with its story before it can with its gorgeous illustrations, but Painting the Song repays attention to the chronicle. Diana James has filled in an important chapter in the story of the origins of the Desert painting movement, for which we should all be grateful.'
Will Owen, 'Early Days in the Desert', Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye, March 2010
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