Wik & Kugu Arts
Servicing the five Clans of Aurukun; Apalech, Sara, Wanam, Winchanam and Putch.
“The people of Aurukun belong to five culturally seperate clan groups. Starting from 1904, clans from the North and South began to walk in from their homelands to form the Aurukun Mission Reserve. This continued even up until the 1970’s”
Wik & Kugu Arts is a place where traditional and contemporary cultural expression is nurtured and some of the most highly collectable art forms in Australia can be found. Beginning as an independent arts initiative in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 2001 that the centre was officially established to service the five Clan groups of Aurukun: Apalech, Putch, Sara, Wanam and Winchanam. Renowned for contemporary ritual sculpture, fibre-art and ochre-based painting practices, Aurukun’s visual art embodies Ancestral narratives that support and maintain spiritual and historical connections to Country. The cultural precinct of Wik & Kugu includes a men’s workshop, a women’s painting studio and a small gallery space.
Aurukun’s five Clan groups have their own unique histories and understanding of the Land as well as interlinked connections with other Clans. There are no simple political linguistic groups in Aurukun. The people do own, by right of Clan birth and Country, a recognised variety of languages. With a population of 1200 people, Aurukun is home to one of only 12 strong Traditional Aboriginal Language’s left in the country. Wik-Mungkan, the lingua franca of the community, is also considered the only “living and thriving” Traditional Aboriginal Language left in Queensland (AIATSIS 2020).
Aurukun was formally established as a mission reserve in 1904 by the Presbyterian Church of Australia. During the early days, the Reserve acted as a stronghold for displaced Northern and Southern Clans escaping the murderous behaviour of marauding pastoralists and sea pearling companies.
From 1904 – 1960, the strength of Aurukun’s artistic traditions were maintained during the period of the Presbyterian Mission under which initiations, that helped maintain selected elements of language and cultural practices belonging to the Wik and Kugu Region, were continued.
Aurukun’s iconic sculptural tradition is a result of unbroken ties to the Ancestral past. For Wik & Kugu people, it is also part of a ceremonial life that dates back to the time of creation. Each Clan has rich totemic heritage connected to sacred story places known in Language as “Awa”.
The earliest ethnographical documentation and collection of Wik sculpture was in the late 1800s. The most significant early collection was made by Ursula McConnel, a collection that now sits in the South Australian Museum.
An important event in Aurukun’s recent history that helped establish today’s contemporary art forms was the famous 1962 ‘Dry Swamps Ceremony’. Filmed by the late Ian Dunlop, one of Australia’s most important ethnographical film makers, an organised Malp’ (corroboree/ceremony) was performed by all five Clans who showcased to the world, for the very first time, Aurukun’s unique Traditions of song, art and dance. Left over from the ceremony was a large collection of ritual sculpture that was gifted to the National Museum of Australia by William MacKenzie, Aurukun’s governing Presbyterian Mission Superintendent (1930 – 1963). The 1962 malp’ is today considered a key cultural resource for the community of Aurukun.
It was the introduction of a sawmill that supported a transition to steel tools. New carpentry techniques also aided the development of more complex and sophisticated sculptures. In recent years, art market developments have allowed Aurukun ceremonial practices to be given a new contemporary context. In the 1970s, the Queensland Government initiated an Art and Craft market for remote top-end communities however, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that Aurukun would start to sell their art commercially. Up to this point, sculpture from Aurukun was not made for sale but was reserved exclusively for Ceremonial purposes, as it always had been.
Wik & Kugu Arts Centre is proudly supported by IVAIS (Indigenous Visual Arts and Industry Support Program) & Backing Indigenous Arts (Arts Queensland).
The Wik & Kugu Arts Centre employs a full-time arts coordinator to oversee the artistic direction and production of both men’s and women’s art practices. The centre also employs three part-time Arts Workers thanks to the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program (IVAIS). Arts Workers are vital to the sustainability of our art centre and therefore are highly valued for their cultural knowledge and workshop facilitating roles.
Volunteers are encouraged to get into touch with the Wik & Kugu Arts Centre.
1 x admin assistant needed
Bookings, material orders, sales and online database support.