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Bigurda taps in to a wider market

BIGURDA Aboriginal Gallery and Craft may not have been immune to the downturn in tourism since September last year, but this hasn’t stopped the business’s management from developing new markets.

The gallery, formally Ganada, was bought and re-created by Aboriginal artist Ada Mongoo two years ago, making it the only Aboriginal privately owned indigenous art and tourism shop in Perth.

Ms Mongoo didn’t have much time to sort out the business’s first-year teething problems before the fallout from September 11 resulted in a significant downturn in sales.

Keeping the gallery’s head above water has taken a lot of hard work. Outgoing gallery manager Leah Goodrem said she had begun to form a new market, apart from tourists.

“We get quite a lot of investors and lawyers in now buying art,” she said.

“Aboriginal art is becoming a sought after investment.”

The original canvases sold in the store range from $49 to $1800.

Ms Goodrem said what set Bigurda Aboriginal Gallery and Craft apart from other retailers of Aboriginal related goods was that absolutely everything at Bigurda had been made by indigenous Australians.

A prime example, according to Ms Goodrem, is the didgeridoo.

While didgeridoos traditionally are made from wood that has been naturally hollowed-out by white ants, some stores sell didgeridoos made from bamboo.

“The bamboo ones are light and easy to carry, a bit like a cardboard roll,” Ms Goodrem said.

“Real didgeridoos are a lot heavier and of course have a much better sound.

“Some stores sell mini didgeridoos, or didgeridoos made by machine. We find that to be very degrading to the whole Aboriginal culture.

“What can you say to someone who walks in with a bamboo didgeridoo and tells you they bought it cheaper down the road?”

Didgeridoos are just one of the many unique problems Ms Goodrem faces when running Bigurda Aboriginal Gallery and Craft.

She has had to develop a keen eye for Aboriginal art, distinguishing the masterpieces from the pieces that have been hastily done.

For example, the smaller the dots on a dot painting, the longer it has taken to complete, Ms Goodrem said.

The colours used in a painting often indicated its authenticity, she said, because artists from different areas of Australia use different colours.

For example, an Aboriginal artist from Broome might use only red, blue, yellow and white. Similarly, artists from various areas may be traditionally allocated certain animals that they are allowed to paint.

“I asked one of my artists to paint me a turtle the other day. She told me that she had never tasted one so she couldn’t paint it,” Ms Goodrem said.

Add to this the fact that Ms Goodrem needs to know all about each artist before selling one of their pieces and it adds up to a lot of learning.

“I could sell 10 canvases by [Perth-based Aboriginal artist] Robyn Mandafferi a week,” she said.

“We always sell out of them. They are always fantastic.”

Of course an artist can only paint so many canvases and inspiration is, unfortunately, unable to be bottled.

Bigurda uses a regular group of artists from WA and also buys some pieces from The Tea Tree Gallery in Alice Springs.

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