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Cooee Art to Art Leven: Australia’s oldest Indigenous gallery relaunches with country x Country

Australia’s longest-running Indigenous gallery, is rebranding as Art Leven under the continued directorship of Mirri Leven to broaden focus while continuing to support First Nations art.

Cooee Art to Art Leven: Australia’s oldest Indigenous gallery relaunches with country x Country

Artists Neil Tomkins and Kitty Napanagka Simon.

Cooee Art, Australia’s most enduring Indigenous gallery, is undertaking a substantial rebranding. The gallery in Sydney has been renamed Art Leven, introducing a new era under the direction of Mirri Leven, its longstanding owner.

The redefined gallery opens on 27 July with a pioneering exhibition curated by Gadigal artist Konstantina, otherwise known as Kate Constantine. Attendees to the Redfern venue, situated on Gadigal Country, will witness an opening exhibition centred around the concept of landscape painting and the complex portrayal of land and Country.

(L-R): Artist Neil Tomkins, arts worker Rickie Tjungurrayi and artist Isaiah Tjungurrayi Lewis.

This inaugural exhibition is titled Country X Country, true to the gallery’s Indigenous roots. Curated by a Gadigal woman from the Eora nation, the exhibition displays works of non-Gadigal artists Neil Tompkins and Kitty Napanangka Simon, demonstrating the gallery’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

Art Leven will showcase pieces from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. This diversified programme is intended to cultivate a space that surpasses the standard commercial relationship between a gallery and an artist, instead establishing a platform for open dialogue and mutual exchange.

Related: An exhibition on drawing at the Powerhouse

Painting by Kitty Napanangka Simon.

As evidence of this intent, Art Leven has already sponsored a painting workshop in the remote Northern Territory town of Lajamanu. During the workshop, Sydney-based artist Neil Ernest Tomkins collaborated with Warlpiri artist Kitty Napanangka Simon, creating art at Warnayaka Arts.

Regarding this new direction, Leven notes: “While project-based partnerships with non-Indigenous artists mark a new direction for the gallery, we remain strongly committed to promoting Indigenous art and culture… we aim to invite audiences of the wider Australian and Western art world into a more intimate and understanding appreciation of our First Nations artists, past and present.”

(L-R): Biddy Nungurrayi Long, Kitty Napanangka Simon and Robin Naparulla Lawson.

Leven also reflected on the origins of her relationship with Cooee Art and the Warlpiri community. She highlights the significance of her relationship with Simon: “Kitty is incredibly important to me, as an artist and friend…  Kitty became the first artist I took on to represent as a fledgling co-owner and director of Cooee.”

In discussing the future of Art Leven, Leven shares her hopes for industry transparency: “In an industry with a sometimes-murky past, I hope that part of the dialogue we foster can focus on what an artist can and should expect of a gallery or representative.”

With Art Leven taking over the mantle from Cooee Art, the focus remains on ethical representation. The gallery seeks to create an intimate relationship with artists, a vision exemplified by Leven’s personal and professional bond with Simon — a relationship that led to Leven funding Simon’s sight-saving surgery in 2020.

Country x Country runs at Art Leven from 27 July to 26 August.

Art Leven (Cooee Art)

Courtesy of Art Leven

Ricky’s Granpa’s Spot.
‘Bush Banana There’ by Neil Ernest Tomkins.
‘Corner of Wampana Road’ by Neil Ernest Tomkins.
‘West Hooker Creek’ by Neil Ernest Tomkins.

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