Cumpston Research

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Nici Cumpston
Board Member

Nici Cumpston is an assistant Curator of Indigenous Australian Art at the Art Gallery of SA. Prior to this she was a lecturer at the SA School of Art, University of South Australia. She is of Aboriginal, Afghan, English and Irish descent and draws strength from her ancestry when creating her artworks. She has been invited to participate in many prestigious awards and exhibitions

Talking and talking back: working across cultures in Weaving the Murray

By Kay Lawrence and Nici Cumpston
Craft Australia Research Centre
presents the images from the paper Talking and talking back: working across cultures in Weaving the Murray, written by Kay Lawrence and Nici Cumpston as part of the Selling Yarns: Australian Indigenous textiles and good business in the 21st century conference held in Darwin in August, 2006.

Details of Nici's work:
Period active: Dates: 1987 -
Medium: Photography
Note: colour, black & white hand coloured (watercolours and pencil), black & white
Artwork: Title: Reflections
Date: 2002 hanging in Adelaide Festival Centre Foyer.
Artwork: Title: Flooded Gum and Eckerts Creek, Murray River National Park
Date: 2005 hanging in Commonwealth Law Court Foyer, Angas Street, Adelaide
Artwork: Title: Campsite No 13
Date: 2006 hanging in South Australian Health Department, CitiCentre Building, Hindmarsh Square, Adelaide

Bachelor of Visual Art
Training: Dates: 2002 - 2004
Place: South Australian School of Art, University of SA

Bachelor of Visual Art, Honours
Recognition: 2007 People's Choice Award - River Murray Art Prize

Recognition: Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Darwin, NT

Residence: Dates: 1987 -
Place: Adelaide, SA
Residence: Dates: 1983 - 1987
Place: Alice Springs and Darwin, NT
Residence: Place: Cairns, QLD
Residence: Dates: 1979 - 1983
Place: Riverland, SA
Residence: Dates: 1968 - 1979
Place: Manitoba, Canada
Residence: Dates: 1963 - 1968
Place: Broken Hill, NSW
Note: Also lived in Alice Springs and Darwin
Other occupation: Lecturer
Note: 1996-2006 Tauondi Aboriginal Community College 2006-2008 University of South Australia
Other occupation: Assistant Curator

Heritage country: Place: Menindee, Broken Hill, Wilcannia, NSW
Language group (indigenous): Barkindji

Nici Cumpston, Photographer

Written by Dr Christine Nicholls

Born in Adelaide in 1963, Nici Cumpston, who is of Afghan, English, Irish and Barkindji (also spelled Paakantji) Aboriginal heritage, is a descendant of the Darling River people of northern NSW. She is also culturally affiliated with the River Murray people and lived for some years at Berri in the South Australian Riverland.

A photographic visual artist, curator and former academic, Cumpston worked in the Photographics Department of the South Australian Police Force between 1990 and 1996, processing slide film relating to crime scenes, road accidents and forensic investigations. This proved to be a germinal experience for the young photographer. In a lecture given to students at the University of South Australia in October 2008, Cumpston revealed that this experience led to her taking, thereafter, an ‘investigative’ and ‘documentary’ approach in her own photography. So even when photographing scenes of great natural beauty, in a sense Cumpston takes a forensic approach. While working with the Police Department she also honed her technical skills and developed proficiency in processing and printing both colour and black and white films.

The major themes and sub-themes of Nici Cumpston’s photography relate to the current parlous state of the Murray-Darling river system, its lakes and tributaries and attendant ecology, and to the attempted erasure of prior Indigenous presence on those sites and the cultural amnesia accompanying this.

A selection of works from this series of photographs was exhibited in 2008 at the University of South Australia Gallery as part of Shards, a group exhibition.

Landmark group exhibitions in Cumpston’s career include Doubts, her first exhibition held at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 1988; Three Views of Kaurna Territory, at Artspace in the Adelaide Festival Centre in 1998; Nakkondi/Look – Indigenous Australians 1999-2000, which originated as a collaborative project with non-Indigenous photographer Andrew Dunbar and culminated in a tour to the 8th Festival of Pacific Arts in Noumea in 2000; Weaving the Murray, also in 2000, in which Cumpston participated as a weaver and as the photographer documenting the weaving practices and objects created by Indigenous and non-Indigenous women; Reflections, her first solo show held at Tandanya in 2002; Holy Holy Holy, at the Flinders University Art Museum 2004; another group show at Sydney’s Cooee Gallery in 2006; Power and Beauty, a group show at Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2007; Attesting, at Gallerysmith Melbourne, in 2009, and more.

Over the years Cumpston’s profile as an artist has grown steadily, and more recently, exponentially. In 2006 she was invited to participate in the Xstrata Coal Emerging Indigenous Art Award at the Queensland Art Gallery. In 2007 she won the People’s Choice Award for the work she entered in the River Murray Art Prize. Her work has been acquired by a number of prestigious institutions including the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection in the University of Virginia (USA); the Adelaide Festival Centre, where her diptych Reflections is on permanent display in the foyer; the South Australian Museum; the Flinders University Art Museum and others, and has also been acquired by a number of private collections. Nici Cumpston’s most significant commission to date, titled Flooded Gum and Eckert’s Creek, Murray River National Park (2005), is on permanent display in the Commonwealth Law Court Foyer in Adelaide’s Angas Street.

Christopher Isherwood once famously said, “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking”. Nici Cumpston too is a camera, shutter wide open, but more than that, a visual artist who actively and thoughtfully records and attests to our less-than-impressive times, registering her deep concern about the probably terminal ecological state of our river systems, while paying homage to her Indigenous forebears.

Nici Cumpston is represented by Gallerysmith in Melbourne

Christine Nicholls would like to acknowledge a lecture given by Nici Cumpston at the University of South Australia 28/10/08, from which many of the insights in this essay were derived.

First published in the Craftsouth Bulletin, Issue 6, April-June 2009.

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