Helping established Indigenous artists to incorporate the art of printmaking into their works

| 09 Feb 2018

UNSW’s Cicada Press is supporting Indigenous artists in Australia and around the world to learn the art of printmaking and produce work that is exhibited locally and internationally, increasing the artist’s repertoire and profile.

The Challenge: Indigenous artists are under-supported because of a dated classification

In the 1960s and 70s, scientist Charles Rowley drew an imaginary line through Australia to mark Indigenous people as settled or colonial/remote. Today this line influences who in Indigenous remote communities receives funding and support for their artwork (typically those classified as ‘remote’), and those in other areas of the country that go without. Tess Allas and Michael Kempson are seeking to eradicate this line.

Printmaking is an art unfamiliar to many established and new artists in Australia and around the world because it is very technical and requires expensive machinery.

UNSW's solution: Educate Indigenous artists in the art of printmaking

Cicada Press, a printmaking workshop based at Art & Design, came into existence in 2004 when course designers were about to remove printmaking from the curriculum. Cicada Press turned a range of printmaking technologies into a course, teaching students how to print and inspiring new work. This workshop is unique to Australian universities.

In addition to educating and inspiring students, established artists also attend workshops aligned with the course at Cicada Press to learn about printmaking and create new works with the support of UNSW staff and students. Cicada Press has supported over 200 established artists, including Fiona Hall, Ben Quilty, Reg Mombassa, Elisabeth Cummings, John Olsen, and New Zealand’s Dame Robin White. From the work completed in his workshop, Michael has curated nearly 60 exhibitions worldwide. Cicada Press has also conducted workshops that support artists with intellectual impairments.

In 2012, Michael teamed up with Tess Allas to erase the Rowley line that influences the level of support provided to Indigenous artists around the country. Those below the line (not already receiving support) and Indigenous artists from around the world are invited to come and undertake the annual Aboriginal Printmaking Workshop at Cicada Press for one to two weeks in February. Six to eight Indigenous artists attend each year and are charged for materials only. Artists come with ideas and Cicada Press facilitates their creating thinking through printmaking. A series of exhibitions from these workshops have been held around the world.

With further funding, Michael is keen to expand the number of established and new Indigenous artists attending Cicada workshops. His target areas are remote and regional Aboriginal communities in Australia, PNG, Indonesia, East Timor, Kiribati, Niue, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

The Impact: Increase an artist's repertoire, international exposure

Immersing themselves in printmaking can help an artist to articulate an idea or emotion in new ways, guiding them in the creative process and offering up new forms of expression. Calling on Michael’s network overseas, work completed by artists at Cicada Press ends up being exhibited in Australia and many locations around the world including China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Pakistan, The Philippines, Taiwan, Ireland, Canada, Bangladesh, Finland, Thailand, UAE and the US.

Students of Michael’s are also big benefactors in terms of knowledge and inspiration. Past graduates of UNSW’s Cicada Press research group have gone on to open new galleries and printmaking centres in Papunya (Central Western Australia), and overseas in The Philippines and Thailand.


Michael Kempson is a Senior Lecturer and Convenor of Printmaking Studies, and Director of Cicada Press. He is also an artist and is represented in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Bangkok, Thailand; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and many Australian state and regional galleries. As Director of Cicada Press, he has curated over 60 exhibitions around the world. Michael’s print workshop model is respected around the world. Artists continually approach him to attend workshops and he is regularly invited to speak at international conferences and forums. Michael is passionate about printmaking and educating other artists and students about the timeless art form.

Tess Allas is Head of Indigenous Programs at A&D. She has worked in the field of Aboriginal art since the early 1990's. Tess has coordinated, curated or was the lead curator on a number of exhibitions locally and internationally. She wrote hundreds of biographies on Aboriginal artists for the 'Storylines Project'. Her print publications include essays for the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection (University of Virginia), as well as articles in Art Monthly, Art & Australia, Artist Profile and Artlink.