Tarnanthi, pronounced tar-nan-dee, is a Kaurna word from the traditional owners of the Adelaide Plains. It means to come forth or appear – like the sun and the first emergence of light, or a seed sprouting. For many cultures, first light signifies new beginnings.

Tarnanthi 2015, the inaugural Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art casts new light on the art of Australia’s rich and diverse indigenous cultures.

At the heart of the Festival, the Art Gallery of South Australia showcases its most ambitious exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in its 134 year history. From far northern tropical Australia to the heart of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands and inner-city studios, the collective vision of the Tarnanthi exhibition delivers a comprehensive geography of ideas.

A cloud of glass lit from within introduces audiences to Tarnanthi at AGSA. In her most ambitious installation to date, Yhonnie Scarce suspends more than 2000 individually blown-glass bush yams in the shape of the nuclear bomb blasts conducted at Maralinga in the north of South Australia between 1953 and 1963. Art and AFL meld in Dinni Kunoth Kemarre and Josie Kunoth Petyarre’s Bush Footy. Since 2006, the husband and wife ‘team Kunoth’ have been celebrating the role of Australian Football in Central Australian communities. Based on individual AFL players, Kemarre’s painted wooden sculptures express an eye for detail and passion for the game, an enthusiasm shared by Petyarre whose paintings of football ‘bush-style’ show community gatherings of players and extended families, trucks, and dogs against a rich field of red sand.

Other exhibition highlights at AGSA include new acquisitions by Aurukun artist Alair Pambegan including his recent collaboration with Tony Albert titled Frontier Wars: Bone Fish Story Place. Albert also exhibits his award winning photographic series, We Can Be Heroes. Also at the Gallery, the Desert Salon presents inventive approaches to subject matter while holding dear the beloved tradition of acrylic painting on canvas. Explosive seed Dreamings from Lajamanu, finely structured renditions of Country from Ernabella, collaborative dynamics from Tjala Arts and iconic forms from Iwantja are among this line-up of bush talent.

Celebrating contemporary Aboriginal art on a scale that has never been seen before in South Australia, TARNANTHI also includes newly commissioned, large-scale work by Reko Rennie, sculptural works by Yarrenyty Arltere, Brian Robinson’s Guardian of the Blooms, Douglas Watkin’s animation The Queen & I, daguerrotypes by James Tylor, Raymond Zada’s reinterpretation of Colonel William Light’s 1838 survey, held in the History SA collection and new moving image work by Warwick Thornton. In their diversity of media, these works are complemented by paintings in ochre by Tiwi artists Cornelia and Delores Tipuamantumirri, Darwin-based Karen Mills and Aurukun painter Mavis Ngallametta, new acrylic paintings on canvas by the Spinifex Artists and ‘portraits of country’ by Alice Springs based Tangentyere artists.

Also at AGSA are recent works on paper and larrakitj by Yolngu artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, and a tribute to Ngarra from Derby in the Western desert through a selection of his work on canvas and paper. Finally, the Namatjira Collection presents, with innovation and beauty, skirts and corresponding watercolours painted in the tradition of Albert Namatjira by his descendants.

Presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia in partnership with BHP Billiton supported by the Government of South Australia