Tiwi Designs is located at Nguiu on the south eastern corner of Bathurst Island. Nguiu has a population of approximately 1500. Bathurst Island has a land area of 2,200 square kilometres and is 80 kilometres north of Darwin in the Northern Territory, Australia.
Nguiu has an airport with regular daily flights and a barge delivery service docking at the landing once a week. A community boat takes passengers on a 5 minute trip across the Apsley Strait to Melville Island. The Apsley Strait averages 1.5 kilometres in width.
The Tiwi Designs art complex is situated up from Tingata (the beach) on Apsley Strait. It comprises of a carver’s shelter, pottery studio, screen printing studio, painting studio plus an administrative centre and retail gallery.
Tiwi Designs started from a small room underneath the Catholic Presbytery on Bathurst Island in 1968. Two young men, Bede Tungatalum and Giovanni Tipungwuti worked with the art teacher from the school, Madeline Clear, to produce wood block prints. This art form was introduced because of the natural link with traditional wood carving techniques.
By 1969 the artists started to transfer their designs onto silk screens. Printing textiles quickly became a major activity for the Tiwi Designs artists. In 1970, a set of six linen place mats were awarded the Industrial Design Council of Australia’s Good Design Award.
In that same year, Bede Tungatalum and Giovanni Tipungwuti formed a partnership and Madeline Clear began to work full-time as Tiwi Design Art Adviser. Madeline promoted Tiwi Design on a television program Today Tonight and enquiries started to come in from far and wide.
By 1976, Tiwi Designs had moved into the large new premises and started work on a wide range of art and craft. The partnership changed to an association in 1980 with the aim being to promote, preserve and enrich Tiwi culture.
Today the organisation is still operating with this aim in mind. There are approximately 100 artists working with Tiwi Design to create painting, wood sculptures, textiles, ceramics, pandanus weaving and printmaking.
Tiwi Design has become an intrinsic part of the Aboriginal art and craft industry in Australia. The organisation continues to support traditional and contemporary art practice, working with highly skilled artists to express their culture.