Located in the remote community of Aurukun on the west coast of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, Wik & Kugu Arts Centre is a community-owned and governed social enterprise hosted by the Aurukun Shire Council. The Centre services the five Clans who live in Aurukun and exists to celebrate and encourage contemporary cultural expression through the arts. The Centre’s primary function is the commercial production of fine art that provides sustainable cultural and economic opportunities for over 30 established and emerging artists. Aurukun’s visual art embodies Ancestral narratives that support and maintain spiritual and historical connections to Country. The cultural precinct of Wik & Kugu includes a men’s workshop, a women’s painting studio and a small gallery space.
Across the Wik & Kugu region, the practice of creating objects for ritual ceremonies dates back to the beginning of time. In recent years, art market developments have allowed these ceremonial practices to be given a new contemporary context. In the 1970s, and thanks to an initiative by the State Government, an art and craft market for remote Queensland Indigenous communities sprang to life. But it wasn’t until the late 1990s that Aurukun started to produce its visual art commercially. Since then, the production of art in the community has flourished into an innovative cultural movement enabling Wik & Kugu people to reassert their ties to Country and solidify their place in the contemporary art world.
Aurukun’s five Clan groups all have their own unique histories and understanding of the Land as well as interlinked connections with other Clans. There are no simple political linguistic groups in Aurukun. The people do own, by right of Clan birth and Country, a recognised variety of languages. With a population of 1200 people, Aurukun is home to one of only 12 strong Traditional Aboriginal Language’s left in the country. Wik-Mungkan, the lingua franca of the community, is also considered the only “living and thriving” Traditional Aboriginal Language left in Queensland (AIATSIS 2020).
It was the introduction of a sawmill that supported a transition to steel tools. New carpentry techniques also aided the development of more complex and sophisticated sculptures. In recent years, art market developments have allowed Aurukun ceremonial practices to be given a new contemporary context. In the 1970s, the Queensland Government initiated an Art and Craft market for remote top-end communities however, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that Aurukun would start to sell their art commercially. Up to this point, sculpture from Aurukun was not made for sale but was reserved exclusively for Ceremonial purposes, as it always had been.