Cape York Peninsula is a marvellous region with a rich range of natural and cultural values. It is one of the largest relatively undisturbed areas remaining on earth. It contains a mosaic of rainforests, woodlands, wild rivers, heathlands, forests and wetlands. Its coastal and marine environments remain healthy and unpolluted. The Cape has been home to Aboriginal peoples for millennia, back to a time when land bridges connected Australia and New Guinea. For images and more information see Cape York Peninsula – Wild Country.
Cape York Peninsula has a number of communities active in producing art works. The best known of these are the Lockhart River “Art Gang”, but there are other communities on the Cape producing excellent art work such as Aurukun, Hope Vale and Kowanyama.
In 2003 the Queensland Art Gallery held a landmark exhibition “Story Place” which demonstrated the breadth of work being produced on Cape York (the catalogue is available through our online shop). While the Aboriginal artists of Cape York have not been as well organised as in the centre, Top End or the Kimberley, this situation is starting to change.
Lockhart River became recognized in the late 1990s as an exciting new art centre where a group of young, contemporary artists developed in the community. The ‘Art Gang’, as they are known locally and now more widely, emerged in 1995. The best known of the Lockhart River artists include Rosella Namok, Samantha Hobson, Fiona Omeenyo, Silas Hobson and Adrian King. For details, see our page on Lockhart River Artists.
Aurukun is situated on the western side of Cape York Peninsula. It is one of the larger communities on the Cape with approximately 1200 people. It was established as as a Presbyterian mission in 1904. The various nations of the western Cape, based around Aurukun, are collectively referred to as the Wik and Kugu peoples. There are five different clans groups within this area.
Aurukun has the oldest established art centre on Cape York Peninsula. There has been an art centre at Aurukun for over fifty years and it provides artistic and commercial support for local artists. The Wik and Kugu Arts and Crafts Centre focuses on the production of high quality indigenous sculpture and fibre art as well as being an important cultural centre.
Artists of the Aurukun region are famous for their sculptures. Traditionally the works were carved in soft timber for use in ceremonies. When the ceremonies were finished the objects were discarded and left to break down in the bush. These sculptures are now taking more lasting form as art objects.
Sculptures from Aurukun are mainly based on totemic animal or plant images. Each artist has one or sometimes two totems that relate to them, their family and their language group and identify them within a social structure. It is only in the last 10 years that the artists of Aurukun have pursued a commercial market for their work.
Craig Koomeeta is one of the best known Aurukun sculptors. He is a member of the Wik-Alkan language group and lives in Aurukun. In 2001, as the first Aurukun artist to enter the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, he received the Wandjuk Marika Memorial Three-Dimensional Award for his Saltwater crocodile sculpture. His work has been included in major exhibitions.
Kowanyama is located in western Cape York Peninsula on the Mitchell River which provides the focus for cultural and economic activity, traditional story places and local fishing sites. Kowanyama has a population of around 900.