In 2002, Upurli Upurli/Anangu Spinifex and Wudjari/Noongar woman Tina Carmody was a co-curator of the last major survey of regional art in Western Australia, Boundless. 20 years later she found herself curating Nganana, the Goldfields iteration of The Alternative Archive project, with her work Wiru Kapi selected for John Curtin Gallery’s regional survey exhibition The Alternative Archive. ART ON THE MOVE headed to Kalgoorlie-Boulder to find out more.

Tina Carmody, 2022. Photographed by Mellen Burns.

Tina Carmody’s involvement in Boundless came about during her second year of an arts degree, when her sister, Debbie Carmody, encouraged her to apply for the Art Gallery of WA (AGWA) Indigenous Curator Traineeship,

“so there I was at 3:30am typing up my application. I ended up getting the job, so I left uni and went and did that.”

During her traineeship, Carmody reflects that it was “sink or swim” when her mentor, Brenda Croft, left AGWA after being appointed senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery of Australia. From this point, although Carmody’s title was still trainee, she was in the role of curator.

Alongside AGWA Curator Dr Robert Cook, Carmody toured the Kimberley gathering artworks for Boundless, “We flew up to Broome and went through the Kimberley and visited all these artists, everything up there, and it was just amazing. Went down to Balgo and had a fantastic time.”

It wasn’t until talking with The Alternative Archive co-curators Anna Richardson and Chris Malcolm that Tina realised the significance of being involved with both exhibitions, “20 years later here I am doing the Kalgoorlie arm. You know, the Goldfield’s leg of this survey… but yeah, I was like, bloody hell, how’s that?”

Curating Nganana, an Anangu word meaning “All of Us”, Carmody was adamant that the exhibition would reflect a diverse cross-section of arts and artists from the area. She explains, “the one thing that I was pretty much really strict on was I wanted really good representation for all artists, Black and white and in all different mediums and to see what’s out there.”

The Goldfields hasn’t always been associated with its art scene, a challenge for Carmody, who, even as a kid was destined for creativity, “I was born with a paintbrush in one hand, a treble clef in the other.”

Growing up, she was left uninspired in the mining-focussed Kalgoorlie-Boulder, “it was just mining, mining. . . nothing else. . . I grew up in this town with a minimal arts community and this was disappointing to me.”

The arts and tourism community has grown significantly with the mining downturn, “When I was young our community had small, individual groups of arts practitioners. Now, we have Tjuma Pulka and Artgold, two central art hubs who bring everyone together.”

As an adult, Tina has deepened her connection to country. “I think a lot of people believe that the desert is this flat country with no trees or water, no life. They think there’s nothing and it’s boring. However, it’s like, no it’s not actually. Quite the opposite. We have quite a vibrant ecosystem that’s teeming with life. We have quite a vibrant arts community too.”

This is reflected in the work exhibited in The Alternative Archive, Wiru Kapi, where Carmody and her sister Debbie visited Hannan Lake in Lakewood, “That photograph that I took, that was at Lakewood, on Hannan Lake. We used to go as kids. We used to swim in there. . . Me and Debbie just went out there, like, “Oh, let’s go and have a look,” and took photographs. . . it was then that I thought to myself, “We actually live in a really unique country” . . . And it never dawned on me, I never realised because I grew up here, I took it for granted.”

Tina Carmody, Wiru Kapi, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As an artist, Carmody’s influences vary across artists and genres, with a particular love for Renaissance art and German Expressionism. Similarly, her artistic approach is non-prescriptive, and Wiru Kapi provided the opportunity to experiment with a new material: poured resin. “The one thing is that I don’t like restricting myself to one technique.”

“You will see artworks. . . you’ll go, ‘Oh, is that done by the same person?’ So that one in Alternative Archive[1], that’s a one-off. I haven’t done anymore that’s like that one. . . But then when you see the artwork that I’ve done that took out the major acquisition prize in 2018 for CKB[2], completely different again.”

“I guess what I’m saying is that I take my cues, my inspiration, from all sorts of elements.”

Aside from her experimental tendencies, Carmody’s own culture is a mainstay of her art practice, “with my wood burning . . . and then with my stories that I do, that’s all stories that’s connected to my identify and my culture.” You can view Tina Carmody’s work Wiru Kapi in The Alternative Archive, touring Western Australia until 2024.

[1] Wiru Kapi, 2017

[2] City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder Art Prize