50 Things Collectors Should Know: Thea Anamara Perkins

Lisa Slade, Art Collector magazine – Issue #95, 12 Jan 2021

Arrente and Kalkadoon artist Thea Anamara Perkins recently described her adoptive brother and fellow artist, Tony Albert, as someone who “always leads with love, even when dealing with our dark history.” Perkins was unwittingly describing her own approach. Here is a practice lead by love that makes a gentle and persuasive space for correcting falsehoods and assumptions. Working with paint and portraiture, Perkins continues her family’s commitment to what she calls “strong and ready communication” and is part of an extraordinary dynasty of First Nations activists and creatives that includes activist Charles Perkins (her grandfather), Arrente elder Hetti Perkins (her grandmother), curator Hetti Perkins (her mother) and acclaimed film director Rachel Perkins (her aunt).


Thea’s Arrente name Anamara describes a river and a Dreaming that runs north of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) – the place that keeps calling her back and has been the wellspring of art and activism for her family, and by extension, the nation. Perkins’ 2020 Alice Prize winning double portrait of her grandfather Charlie and aunt Rachel is self-described as “a love note to Alice”. Titled Tent Embassy, the painting began with a treasured family photograph depicting father and daughter sharing a moment, “focused and tender”, in the midst of the public and political space of a land rights protest in Canberra.


Perkins’ choice of clayboard, a kaolin-covered painting surface, renders a super flat and absorbent finish where the brush is belied and flat blocks of colour dominate each composition. Akin to working with tempera or poster paint, and described as possessing a digital feel, this way of working ensures the most direct means of communication for Perkins. Fittingly, the focus of her current work – an outcome of her winning the 2020 Australia Council’s Dreaming Award for emerging artists – is on the protest posters of the 1970s and 1980s. Involving a series of workshops with the town camp communities of Mparntwe and with artists working at Tangentyere Aboriginal Art Centre, along with mentor Tony Albert, this new body of work draws upon the visual language of political posters while also building upon the work made for Tarnanthi at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) in 2019.


Now in the AGSA collection, Perkins’ portraits of Tangentyere artists, including Sally M Nangala Mulda, hung alongside the paintings made by the artists depicted – a visual demonstration of Perkins’ commitment to collaboration and to amplifying the work of other artists.


Also a finalist in this year’s Archibald Prize with a portrait of her pop, Gadigal leader Charles “Chicka” Madden, Perkins values art prizes as a political platform with few peers. The art prize represents an arena where the personal and the political can become public, and where First Nations artists are, in her words, finally given “a seat at the table”. This arena is extended to the festival context in Perkins’ forthcoming series where the role of First Nations people in the Sydney Festival is made visible through portraiture.


 – Lisa Slade |  Assistant Director, Artistic Programs, Art Gallery of SA