Spinifex artwork takes pride of place at British Museum

Spinifex artist Simon Hogan met Prince Charles during his recent trip to London for an indigenous art exhibition Picture: Benedict Johnson

Spinifex artist Simon Hogan sits at a desk in Boulder Short Stay, flipping through a catalogue printed for a Spinifex Arts Project exhibition in Germany.

Speaking in rapid-fire Pitjantjatjara, the 85-year-old elder is enthusiastically sharing details of one of his feature paintings, "Tjining".

Like most Spinifex artwork, the painting depicts elements of the rituals, narratives and landscape of traditional country in the Spinifex homelands around Tjuntjuntjara - in this case, a rock hole surrounded by tall trees.

Hogan is on his way home to the community, 700km east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, after a huge week sharing his art on the other side of the world.

"I just flew to London, to see my paintings on a wall," Hogan said, via Spinifex Arts Project manager Amanda Dent, who acted as his interpreter.

Hogan, Ms Dent and another Spinifex Arts manager Brian Hallett were in the UK last week representing Spinifex Art on display in the British Museum as part of Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation.

The exhibition combined historic artefacts dating back to Aboriginal contact with the First Fleet and work produced by modern indigenous artists from around Australia.

It featured two pieces from a collaborative effort by Spinifex artists, one completed by senior men from the community and the other by women.

In a huge coup for the arts program, both pieces were featured on the glossy guide for the show as the front and back cover art.

Ms Dent said this showed the international recognition of the quality of Spinifex artwork.

"One of the things about Spinifex art that makes it stand out is the strong cultural integrity, people aren't painting specifically for the market," she said.

"Of course people like to get paid for their work but they're painting for other reasons, they're painting their country.

"When Simon talks to you about his work, he's painting his country and that whole history of land rights and that connection to country."

Hogan is already a seasoned world traveller, having previously visited London once already, as well as Austria and Germany.

Mr Hallett said the affable Spinifex elder won over everyone the group met on the trip.

"He is fantastic to travel with, doesn't complain, and treats everyone equally or expects them to know who he is," he said.

"He's very friendly, the hotel staff loved him."

His friendly nature also served him well during a meeting with the descendent of another long-standing cultural tradition - Prince Charles, who officially opened the exhibition.

Ms Dent said the royal was diplomatic in his meeting with those at the exhibition and had a sincere interest in the art on display.

"He's really well informed. He knew a lot about the show already; a lot about indigenous Australia and genuinely interested, so he was asking me a lot of questions," she said.

After a long flight from the UK, all three are due back in Tjuntjuntjara today, where construction has just started on a new arts centre.

Once completed, it will be the first time the arts project will have a purpose-built facility to help produce the community's paintings.

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