The community art centers helping Australia’s Indigenous artists flourish

Yarrenyty Arltere Artists card image 2
CNN  — 

Marlene Rubjunta’s love affair with soft sculpture – the art of shaping soft materials like cloth and rubber – was slow to ignite. When the Australian Indigenous artist first walked into a community arts center in her Northern Territory hometown almost a decade ago, she had to overcome her lack of familiarity with the medium.

“When I first went (to the art center) I couldn’t stand sewing. I was terrible at it, like a kindergarten kid. But then I learnt about it, started concentrating and using a lot of colors.

“And now look at what I can do,” Rubjunta said with a shy smile, pointing to the sculpture that she spent weeks fashioning and refers to as her “bush queen.”

The artwork is currently on show at the cavernous Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney’s iconic Circular Quay as part of the 21st Biennale of Sydney. It stands alongside the work of other Indigenous artists from Rubjunta’s community art center, Yarrenyty Arltere Artists.

The whimsical soft sculptures, which are made from blankets and adorned with bright thread and feathers, depict elements of traditional Aboriginal life including hunting, food and wildlife. The group’s art has won two prizes at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, and is represented in major collections around Australia.

Art has played a vital role in in the Larapinta Valley Town Camp in Alice Springs since Yarrenyty Arltere Artists was founded in 2000. Alice Springs has long faced a well-documented battle with violent and alcohol-related crime, as well as problems with