Mbantua Galllery History

 

Mbantua Gallery History

Under the leadership of Tim Jennings, Mbantua Gallery first began as Mbantua Store in July 1986. It was located at 55 Gap Road, Alice Springs. This was a general store that was first set up in the 1950’s by Finke River Mission. The store was a general store that sold groceries, hardware, clothing and also had a small aboriginal art section. It was run by the Mission for many, many years and was affectionately known as “Mission Block”. Around 1982 the Mission decided to sell the business (not the real estate) and the store manager at the time bought it. On July 13, 1986 it changed hands once more, this time to Tim. The focus in those days was the general store side of the business, but the art was also interesting. The close affiliation it had with the traditional Aboriginal people, the long history of dealing in Aboriginal Art and the increased demand for and production of art, all helped to turn Mbantua Store into Mbantua Gallery.

Early Days...

In the early days the general store catered to the Aboriginal population and mainly to the community of Utopia about 250 kms northeast of Alice Springs and only accessed by a very rough, dirt road that took 3-4 hours to drive. In heavy rain the roads would be closed and the community unable to get to town. A big ‘bush truck’ was incorporated into the Alice Springs business and it would go to the community once a fortnight and, later on, a weekly basis bringing food, clothes, medicines, toiletries, even washing machines, stoves and all manner of furniture to the residents of Utopia. The community knew when the bush truck was due to come and would call and put an order in for all kinds of necessities to be brought out to them. Sometimes it was just too difficult to get to town! In this way Tim met and made friends with many of the local Aboriginal people. They took him into their homes and showed them their art, introduced him to the stories associated with the art and over time Mbantua Gallery has played a key role in the history and evolution of Utopia Art.The emergence of the Utopia artists is considered to be one of the largest art movements in the world. Many renowned Australia artists come from this region including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, whom Tim knew personally before her death in 1996. Other well known artists of today are great friends of Tim Jennings, including Barbara Weir, Gloria Tamerre Petyarre, Greeny Purvis, Minnie Pwerle.

In 2004, after many renovations, the Mbantua Cultural Museum was created on the second floor of the Gallery. This museum put great focus on all aspects of the Aboriginal Culture and various aboriginal artists of Central Australia.

More expansion....

The Mbantua Coffee Café was born in September of 2006. The idea was to give the locals and tourists a chance to relax with a drink and a bite to eat while surrounded by the beautiful artworks on display. By this time the Gallery had now expanded into the space of 4 shop premises as well as the huge museum space on top. It seemed like a good idea to continue to expand in these days and why not open a gallery in our capital city of Darwin? So, Mbantua Fine Art Gallery in Darwin was opened on April 13, 2007 and featured art from Central Australia as well as some local arts and crafts. The first gallery was situated at the Novotel Darwin Hotel on The Esplanade but after 2 years the decision was made to move to Shop 2, 30 The Mall. It’s been a well-known presence in the Darwin Mall ever since.

Acquiring Earth's Creation.....

One of the biggest events in Mbantua Gallery history occurred in 2007 at an art auction in Sydney. Tim had his heart set on acquiring a beautiful painting by Emily Kngwarreye, titled Earth’s Creation. This painting measured a stunning 2.7m high and 6.3m wide and was painting by Emily over 3 separate panels. Tim felt very passionately that, as this painting started its life in Central Australia, then that was where it should return to. After intense bidding pushed the cost to a record high price, the painting belonged to Tim and Mbantua Gallery!

Global Financial Crisis....

Unfortunately in 2008 the global financial crisis hit Australia hard. Big decisions had to be made in the ensuing years and the Coffee Café was the first to go. Tourism in Central Australia was on the decline and as we depended on tourists to visit, other hard decisions were made to start the big downsize of the Gallery floor space. This was in the days before there was a great deal of online shopping.

Another new Gallery.....

In November 0f 2010 we once again had eyes on expansion, this time we decided to test the art culture in Mornington, Victoria. Although the Utopian art caught on quite well initially, Mornington was really a seaside resort with a huge population in the summer months that dwindled to very low numbers for 6 months of the year during the cold, Victorian winters. We stayed there for 3 years then sadly decided not to renew our lease.