• Particulate Matter: a fossil fuelled future?

    6 March to 18 April

Alison Clouston & Boyd / Jacky Green / Iltja Ntjarra: Benita Clements, Ricky Connick, Selma Coulthard, Vanessa Inkamala, Gloria Pannka, Mervyn Rubuntja, Hilary Wirri, Betty Namatjira Wheeler / Fiona MacDonald
Presented with:
Iltja Ntjarra Art Centre, Alice Springs and Waralangku Arts, Borroloola

Dates: 6 March to 18 April
Opening: Thursday 5 March, 6pm
In the presence of and talks by Iltja Ntjarra artists

Thursday 5 March, 11 to 2 pm:
Watercolour Masterclass with Iltja Ntjarra artists.
For Masterclass information and registration visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/206545190545230/

Banner image: Mervyn Rubuntja, NO FRACKING, 2019. Watercolour on paper, 73 x 54 cm

We want to introduce to people in urban environments the beautiful landscape of the Northern Territory. At the same time, we want to raise awareness about the issues we are facing.
We feel that there is a lack of consultation with traditional owners. If the authorities would only listen to us rather than investing in things such as mining on our country, which we strongly object to. - Mervyn Rubuntja

About Particulate Matter

At the end of 2019, much of Australia’s east coast (NSW and Victoria) and the Flinders Ranges and Kangaroo Island (SA) went up in flames. The Black Summer collapsed the tyranny of distance: the far from here became intimate as smoke crawled into every set of lungs, near or far, as “particulate-matter”, particles that are small enough to enter and damage human lung tissue. For months, Australians breathed air pollution up to 26 times above levels considered hazardous to human health. Climate emergency is now a thing that envelopes and entraps us all.

We are a continent of orange sunsets, dead rivers and dying koalas, black oceans and bleached coral; a laboratory of the crisis that confronts contemporary existence. Particulate Matter breathes an alternative landscape tradition; one that fights land appropriation and resource extraction without consent. In 1963, a bark petition by Yolngu elders protested the alienation of traditional lands for bauxite mining at Yirrkala in Northern Territory. The petition offered non-Indigenous Australians a rare opportunity to understand the creation and maintenance of the region, with its complex relations of Indigenous ownership, custodianship and obligation: a living tradition of land care, stretching back 60,000 years, or the ‘eternal present’ of the Indigenous Dreamtime. While the 1963 petition was unsuccessful, in the short term, it provoked the Federal Government’s 1976 Land Rights (NT) Act which galvanised the homelands and art centre movements.

Critical engagements by artists matter deeply as they can enable change of mind, heart and legislation. Traditions of witnessing and mass interventions—from the riot of hand-made signs in school children’s protests, to chatty Knitting Nanas and the spectacular choreography of Extinction Rebellion—all help us to figure out what is going on in politics, state and corporate propaganda and heavy-handed laws from the ‘push-back’ Intervention to mass incarceration of Aboriginal people.[1]

The artists in Particulate Matter have called for action against ecocide. They represent three vast areas of fossil fuel exploration and development: Central Australia, Barkly Tableland and the Gulf of Carpentaria and Galilee Basin. In the Northern Territory Jack Green (and other Yanyuwa, Garawa, Marra and Gudanji artists) on the Macarthur River Mine (the world’s largest open-cut lead-zinc mine, owned by Glencore the world's largest transnational miners operating in 18 countries)[2] and Mervyn Rubuntja’s ‘No Fracking’ camel points to the stupidity of fracking in parched Central Australia. Both are custodians and leading voices. In Queensland artist / activists have raised awareness about open cut coal mining in Queensland’s vast Galilee Basin proposed by Adani and millionaire election funder Clive Palmer’s China First mine—four times the size of Adani. Together with many artists they memorialise each dying species, loss and ruin and the destruction of a Dreaming storyline. Jack Green’s radiating lines or stripes convey, simultaneously, energy and meditation; the land is breathing.

In artworks and exhibitions, actions and artist videos the artists continue the history of contesting the Western modernist landscape tradition; of the mute bush peopled by anti-heroes or marginalised folk. During the period of alienated modernist landscapes, the watercolours of Western Aranda speaking artist, Albert Namatjira, became increasingly popular and a few bark paintings found their way into public art collections via anthropological ‘expeditions’. In 2020 curator Brooke Andrew brings a First Nations worldview to the Sydney Biennale—founded 47 years ago. That’s how long it takes to “get a go” in Australia.

Nonetheless, First Nations artists have helped to win hearts, minds and a fair share of battles for Native Title, environmental justice and the Uluru Statement (2017) for Truth, Treaty and Voice.[3] Most Australians now acknowledge that reconciliation and environmental sustainability are related issues. Many see the colonial savagery and failure of the Intervention, dramatically introduced in 2007 as a military intervention, just as the Federal Government calls for it to be extended as ‘income management’, having long desired to spread the Intervention beyond the Northern Territory to other regional communities.[4]

In the ‘red centre’, descendants of Albert Namatjira and his kin reference the 'heritage of Namatjira' and also extend the famous Hermannsburg school to film or performance (such as with BigHeart theatre group). These “intervention” artworks, like the artists’ Sydney Biennale works, are drawn from their social commentary paintings, focussing on mining and climate change. In mid-2016, artists at Iltja Ntjarra art centre invited artist Tony Albert to hold collage workshops in Alice Springs, confronting matters like homelessness and health—key issues the Intervention has miserably failed to address.[5]

The artists say: This body of work explores the overlay of modernity on the traditional indigenous way of life. It delves deeply into the psychological process of alienation and the deep-seated need and determination to hold fast what has been entrusted by past ancestors.  It is a reflection of the past and a window to the future. Intrusions and uniforms may change, but Tjina Nurna-ka, Pmarra Nurn-kanha, Itla Itla Nurn-kanha / Our family, our country, our legacy, does not.

Since that time, as Jack Green states about a painting: Government been working for a long time to push us Aboriginal people off our homelands. Many people end up in town with no job, no house and no family support. Being in town, whether it be Darwin, Katherine or Tennant Creek can be dangerous for Aboriginal people.

Artists Fiona MacDonald and Alison Clouston and Boyd contributed to Bimblebox: Art, Science, Nature (curator Beth Jackson), a successful national touring exhibition based on artist residencies at Bimblebox Nature Refuge in the Galilee Basin. The Bimblebox Art Project, begun in 2012 by artist Jill Sampson, joins a vital genre of contemporary art exhibitions that create platforms for calmer discussions.

Fiona MacDonald’s Mining Galilee (2014) subtly presents the economic and emotional conflict between energy resources and natural heritage in regional communities—a propaganda flash point for politicians. Her digital photographic series layers the massive scale of open-cut mining in the Galilee Basin over studio portraits taken in Rockhampton in a primarily agricultural age. (Several members of the artist’s Rockhampton-based family have worked in these mines.)

Alison Clouston’s Coalface death mask (2020) in Particulate Matter belongs to a set of her works that double as performance costumes with Extinction Rebellion or at mass climate emergency rallies. (Debuting at Sydney Town Hall rally on 22 February 2020.) In collaboration with composer Boyd’s soundscapes Clouston links the ‘social situations’ of street protest to immersive ‘social archives’ of deep, even geological time, or cyclical time experienced in a gallery installation.

The urgency of environmental emergency and destruction are evaded by our Federal government. The Prime Minister calls for “resilience” while planning for more coal mines and promotes a long, slow detour through “the gas route” allegedly for its lower carbon dioxide emissions. In 2016 atmospheric carbon dioxide passed 400ppm and in the previous year Australia emitted 532 million tons of carbon dioxide — despite extreme drought and renewable energy uptake. (AFR, 29 November 2019.) Even a catastrophic temperature increase of 2℃ of global warming would require annual emissions reduction of 2.7% per year, well beyond what can be accomplished by subsidising gas.

So, Australia digs deeper in its efforts to be the world’s biggest quarry. The geographic sites in Particulate Matter are dispersed but broadly representative of what is happening across the ‘great quarry’—now linked by port monopolies (Glencore) or gas lines. Exploration permits generally cover the very large areas that are required for oil and gas exploration. In the Northern Territory where Aboriginal landowners consent to exploration (EPAs), they cannot refuse and subsequent mining.[6]

The drought followed by infernos have made us aware that water is now an increasingly commercialised resource. Natural gas has been piped from the Amadeus Basin (Palm Valley and Mereenie gas fields) through the Amadeus Gas Pipeline to Darwin since 1986. The new Northern Gas Pipeline has enabled Mereenie field, west of Alice Springs, to ramp up production, Palm Valley to re-open, and the opening of a new Dingo gas field south of Alice Springs. More exploration drilling underway—anywhere, anytime. The new high-pressure pipeline crosses the Barkly Tableland connecting to the Carpentaria Gas Pipeline near Mount Isa in Queensland.

In Queensland Clive Palmer's Waratah Coal (formerly China First) has applied for its Mining Lease and Environmental Authority for a coal mine four times larger than the Adani mine. The Environmental Defenders Office has launched a challenge on behalf of the owners/caretakers of Bimblebox Nature Refuge and The Bimblebox Alliance. While the fossil fuel industry remains the highest donor to major Federal political parties, a flourishing future is as unlikely. The decision by the High Court in the Timber Creek appeal launched by the late Mr Griffiths from Warringarri Arts in Kununurra, awarded Timber Creek native title holders $2.5m, partly for 'spiritual harm'. (ABC, 13 March 2019.)[7] It is cold comfort.

Over the Black Summer, author Richard Flanagan wrote from Bruny Island off the coast of Tasmania, “Australia has only one realistic chance to, you know, survive: Join other countries like those Pacific nations whose very future is now in question and seek to become an international leader in fighting for far stronger global action on climate change. But to do that it would first have to take decisive action domestically.” (NYT, 25 January 2020.)[8] Flanagan dramatically introduces Danielle Celermajer's idea of “omnicide” to capture the scale and breadth of the killing. Celermajer a Sydney academic specialising in multispecies justice, says that 'More than ecocide, “omnicide” is "the killing of everything – human and morethanhuman.'

Across our region from the Pacific to the Indonesian archipelago, there are pleas for Australia’s leaders to “listen to the scientists”.

Vale: Over the Black Summer we mourned 33 human deaths, trillions of animal deaths and over 100 species extinctions (in NSW alone over a thousand species are already extinct) and the burning of 17 million hectares. We honour our firefighters and vast crews of volunteers who communicated, healed and fed so bravely and those who travelled from afar to join in solidarity.

Jo Holder and Djon Mundine OAM

Thank You

Special thanks To the artists and to Bimblebox Art Project (Beth Jackson and Jill Simpson); Iltja Ntjarra Art Centre (Iris Bendor, Marisa Maher & Koren Wheatley) and Waralungku Arts (Katrina Langdon); The Cross Art Projects: Belle Blau, Simon Blau and Phillip Boulten and historian Dr Seán Kerins, Stop the Intervention Collective or STICS (Sabine Kacha, Hans Marwe).

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Jacky Green, Garawa, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 41 cm (#363-19)

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Jacky Green, Our Dreamings Our Life, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm (#403-19)

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Jacky Green, Ngarki Yarji (My Country), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 61 x 94 cm (#271-19)

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Jacky Green, This Land is Ours–Four Clans (Yanyuwa, Garawa, Marra and Gudanji), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 74 cm (#249-19)

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

 Mervyn Rubuntja, NO FRACKING, 2019. Watercolour on paper, 73 x 54 cm

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Vanessa Inkamala, Rutjipma (Mt Sonder), Always Was Always Will Be, 2020. (#56-20)

I wanted to show that even though this country is post card perfect, it should still be acknowledged as the significant Indigenous cultural site that it is.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Vanessa Inkamala, Untyeyetwelye, 2020.  (#113-20)

This place is called Anzac Hill in white man’s language, but we call it Untyeyetwelye. It is a sacred women’s site for us, but unfortunately It is now a memorial site for soldiers of war. Growing up I always saw the Australian flag flying up on that hill, but never the Aboriginal flag.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Alison Clouston, Coalface, 2020.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Alison Clouston, Coalface, 2020.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Alison Clouston & Boyd, Coalface, 2020. Climate Emergency Rally, Sydney Town Hall, 22 February 2020.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Alison Clouston & Boyd, Coalface, 2020. Climate Emergency Rally, Sydney Town Hall, 22 February 2020.

About the Artists

Benita Clements is the great granddaughter of Albert Namatjira and daughter of artist Gwenda Namatjira. She paints quirky figurative works of her efforts to teach her family, including her husband, Ricky Connick, the skills of watercolour art.

Alison Clouston & Boyd, are a collaborative of sculptor / installation artist and composer / sound artist, and have since 2007 added a formal carbon audit and offset to their renowned re-cycled artworks.

Ricky Connick’s work is distinguished by a precise drawing technique and his interest in showing hunting practices. he speaks Western Aranda and Pitjantjatjara as his mother's country is Ntaria and he grew up in Areyonga, his father's country).

Selma Nunay Coulthard grew up in Hermannsburg where she went to school with fellow artist Ivy Pareroultja. Since first watching the Namatjira brothers paining in Ntaria she was wanted to be an artist.

Jack Wongili Green is a Garrwa man, born in 1953 at Soudan Station and educated on country before working as a stockman. He has fought for over 3 decades to protect his country and its sacred sites, including founding the Garawa Rangers and Waanya/Garawa Rangers. He turned to painting in 2008 to get his voice heard and show what is happening to his country and people. He has collaborated with academic Seán Kerins on a series of important articles about caring for country, notably in People on Country, Vital Landscapes, Indigenous Futures (edited by Jon Altman and Seán Kerins). Jack Green won the 2015 Peter Rawlinson Conservation Award. His work is represented in the collection of the Australian National University. In 2016 he was a finalist in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in Darwin.

Vanessa Inkamala was born in 1968 at Ntaria (Hermannsburg). Her grandmother’s brother is Albert Namatjira and she is the niece of award winning atist Ivy Pareroultja who nursed Vanessa and her brother Reinhold Inkamala (also painter).

Fiona MacDonald is known for her installations of bodies of work that draw on local cultural traditions, social and natural history. Her work takes the form of ‘conversations’ about undercurrents in social processes of inclusion and exclusion. http://www.fiona-macdonald.net/

Mervyn Rubuntja continues a tradition began by his father Wenten Rubuntja, an important political leader in central Australia and senior lawman, by painting “land rights painting” in both acrylic, watercolour and Western Desert styles

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Fiona MacDonald, Mining Jericho, 2013 Inkjet print, 62 x 46 cm.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Fiona MacDonald, Mining Blackwater, 2013 Inkjet print, 62 x 46 cm.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020

Fiona MacDonald, Mining Tambo, 2013 Inkjet print, 46 x 62 cm.

Related Exhibitions & Links on the Intervention and Art & Mining

2018/08 - Arts Backbone, ‘Cultural Legacy Edition’, published by ANKA Darwin

2018/06 - A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On by JoHolder and Djon Mundine. Exhibition catalogue published by The Cross Art Projects and Counihan Gallery

2018/05 - 'Review of Open Cut exhibition' by Kate Leah Rendell in Un Magazine, 12.1, Melbourne or Download as pdf

2018/03 - The Conversation, “In Open Cut exhibition, protest art challenges visitors to Take action”, By Kirrily Jordan, Research Fellow, Australian National University

2017/07 - Land Rights News, Northern Edition July 2017, 'On the 10 Year Intervention (includes articles by Pat Dodson, Jon Altman, Thalia Anthony).

2017/07 - Central Land Council newsletter, July 2017 on Uluru statement.

2017/07 - Unravelling Our Past: Four Exhibitions to See in July. Probing history to pose important questions about Australia's future by Sammy Preston

2017/07 - Jon Altman, ‘The Destruction of Homelander Life-ways’, Arena Magazine, The Intervention Feature, no 148.

2017/06 - Glencore mine's 'deal' with Indigenous owners called into question, documents reveal

2017/06 - Indigenous Australian Corporation Accused of Censoring Aboriginal Artists by Crystal Wu

2016 - Social Licence. Flow of Voices 3: Jack Green, Stuart Hoosan, Nancy McDinny with Miriam Charlie, at The Cross Art Projects.


2014 - Flow of Voices 1, Art & Mining. Jack Green, The Cross Art Projects - http://crossart.com.au/archive/256-jacky-green-flow-of-voices

2014 - Flow of Voices 2, Frontier History. Jack Green, Stuart Hoosan, Nancy McDinny with Miriam Charlie, The Cross Art Projects - http://www.crossart.com.au/archive/258-jacky-green-stewart-hoosan-and-nancy-mcdinny-flow-of-voices-2

2015/12 - Les Tricoteuses: The plain and purl of solidarity and protest [On the Knitting Nannas], 2015

2015/02 - 'Jack Green, Beyond Dot Paintings', illustrated feature by Amy Quire, New Matilda on line.

2013/11 - What Lies Beneath, Gouburn Regional Art Gallery Exhibition Invite (Alison Clouston)

2013/11 - The Age of Consent, The Stuttering Frog: The Williams River Valley Artists' Project News # 2 (on Hunter Valley coal mines)

2013/05 - Ghost Citizens, Art Guide

Artist Videos
Water is Life, 2018, video document on Aboriginal Communities (filmed at Borroloola) fighting fracking in the NT. Produced by Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network
At https://vimeo.com/261023308

Climate Emergency Campaigns
An open letter on the scientific basis for the links between climate change and bushfires in Australia - https://australianbushfiresandclimatechange.com/
Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) - https://www.facebook.com/AYCC.org.au/
Bimblebox Art Project website - http://bimbleboxartproject.com
Bimblebox 153 Birds, exhibition available for tour - http://netsaustralia.org.au/register/bimblebox-153-birds/

Campaign by climate scientists and museum directors for national action to tackle climate change in the wake of Australia's devastating bushfire seasons - https://www.sbs.com.au/news/climate-scientists-and-museum-directors-urge-leaders-to-take-stronger-action?fbclid=IwAR2iJ70v8pr9Y7YY46V70M62Htf7D0cO7fqVZwceJG-5_go1UOH1sCWn4gM
Climate Emergency Summit, Melbourne, February 2020 -  https://www.climateemergencysummit.org/full-program/
Environment Defenders Office Queensland -  https://www.edo.org.au/farmers-against-galilee-coal-mine/Lock the Gate Alliance at https://www.lockthegate.org.au/
Stop Adani - https://www.stopadani.com/ 

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020         Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Particulate Matter, 2020


[1] In the Northern Territory a huge prisons industry locks-up mostly Indigenous people. In 2018, 84% of adult prisoners in the NT were Aboriginal, despite Aboriginal adults accounting for 25.9% of the NT's adult population. Figures for young people are much worse (almost 100%).

[2] McArthur River Mining (MRM) mines one of the world’s largest zinc and lead deposits. The mine is south-west of the town of Borroloola and exports through Bing Bong loading facility on the Gulf of Carpentaria. Established as an underground operation in 1995, MRM controversially converted to open pit mining in 2006. In 2007-08 they built a 6km diversion of the river. The current mine life extends to 2036. Waste discharges and impact reporting is “self-monitored”. Rehabilitation is by MRM (eg., planting seedlings). Remediation defaults to the NT government.

[3] See: Thomas Mayor, Finding the Heart of the Nation, Hardie Grant Publishing, 2019.

[4] Land Rights News (Northern Edition) July 2017. On the 10-year anniversary of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the “Intervention”) a brutalising drama introduced on the eve of a Federal Election. Includes articles by Pat Dodson, Jon Altman, Thalia Anthony.

[5] Kieran Finnane, ‘Namatjira family: Getting listeners ‘through our art’, Alice Springs News, 6 July 2016. On Iltja Ntjarra’s early “social commentary” work: https://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2016/07/06/namatjira-family-getting-people-to-listen-through-our-art

[6] The Northern Territory’s Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracking (Draft report December 2017) recommended that areas not prospective for onshore gas or where go-existence is not possible be reserved blocks under the Petroleum Act 1984 (NT).

[7] At https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-13/native-title-high-court-land-rights-spiritual-connection/10895934

[8] Richard Flanagan, How Does a Nation Adapt to Its Own Murder? New York Times, 25 January 2020. Flanagan cites Danielle Celermajer. At https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/opinion/sunday/australia-fires-climate-change.html