Ngarawanajirri Inc, the Keeping House, Bathurst Island

About This Project

Ngarawanajirri means “to help one another” in Tiwi. The aim of this organisation is to provide a safe, clean community area for local artists to practise and to help and encourage them with their work. This provides the artists with a job and status within the community. The work the artists undertake includes painting, fabric art, and carving in the historic “Keeping Place” – a magnificent Ngarawanajirri building commonly called the Tiwi Sistine Chapel. You can also watch a video here and see the chapel, beautiful silk screens and artists as they work.


Ngarawanajirri was established 22 years ago by Joy and John Naden. Today, they manage a group of between 10 to 25 disabled artists, some of whom are well known. Joy – a teacher and artist – is a coach and mentor to the artists, she keeps an eye on everyone and gently encourages their work so it gradually improves. Tourists visit Ngarawanajirri from time to time, and artists receive half the income from works sold.


Some of the art produced at Ngarawanajirri has been described as “outsider art”, Art Brut or Raw Art. The paintings show a “raw” freedom and energy on the one hand, perhaps appearing spontaneous or being drawn from a meditative or introspective state.


How the ABF has helped Ngarawanajirri

The ABF has provided a total of $20,000 to Ngarawanajirri over 2018-2019 .This was the first time in three years they had received funding. Our help covered artist materials, fuel and running costs and nutritious food for morning tea.


As John Naden highlights, the main problem for many in the community is boredom. Ngarawanajirri gives the community hope, provides the artists with a small income and gives meaning to their lives.


Ngarawanajirri could easily take on another 20 people, but would need more funding to be able to accommodate this.


Ngarawanajirri in the press

The ABC visited Ngarawanajirri in July 2018 as part of its “Back Roads” series and produced a segment Tiwi Islands: Couple fights to keep a centre for artists with a disability running without funding. You can read and watch the segment here.