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Show reveals diversity of contemporary desert art

A new exhibition in Perth surveys the latest works from six art centres in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, one of the most prolific areas for Aboriginal art.

"It's the first time we've looked at that part of Western Australia as a whole, trying to showcase kind of a bit of everything that's happening there," FORM curator Andrew Nicholls told AAP.

With the region covering about 250,000 square km, about the size of Victoria, from the edge of the Pilbara to the state's eastern borders, there's a lot going on.

The Ngaanyatjarra Lands are part of the Western Desert, the birthplace of Aboriginal art in Australia, and contemporary work from the region is both distinctive and extremely diverse.

In part that's because dot painting, the discipline that put Aboriginal art on the map internationally, came late to the Ngaanyatjarra Lands.

For decades artists focused on wood carving for the tourist market, and women in particular pioneered basket weaving practices and fibre art.

Those skills across mediums have made for a freer and more fluid approach, according to Nicholls.

"Maybe they'll take more creative risks because they've always had this multidisciplinary approach," he said.

"Whereas in some other famous art centres painting has become the hero discipline."

For example, there's a stop motion animation titled Kukaputju, featuring woven figures made by the Tjanpi Desert Weavers.

Artist Cynthia Burke, from the Maruku Arts centre, uses a wire heated on a wood fire to make burnt etching work on punu, or wooden objects.

"The designs of my family and watching nature helped me to develop my own designs," she said.

"I enjoy the burning process and how my designs grow on the wood."

The art draws on the bold colours of the desert, traditional tales and culture, and reflections on contemporary Western Desert life.

It's the first exhibition for the Perth gallery space previously known as The Goods Shed under its new name, FORM Gallery.

Nicholls explains FORM has worked with communities in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands since the 1990s, and art centres have become integral to the culture and quality of life in remote communities.

"Beyond allowing artists to express themselves and make money, they are vehicles for passing on stories and cultural knowledge," he said.

The show includes works from the Minyma Kutjara Arts Project in Irrunytju (Wingellina), Papulankutja Artists in Papulankutja (Blackstone), Tjarlirli Art in Tjukurla, Warakurna Artists, and the Tjanpi Desert Weavers and Maruku Arts initiatives.

Really One Story: Art from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands opened to the public Thursday and is on at FORM Gallery in Claremont until May 7.