Born: 1963
Place of Birth: Adelaide, Australia
Ethnicity: Afghan, English, Irish and Barkindji Aboriginal heritage (A Descendant of the Darling River people of north western, New South Wales. She is also culturally affiliated with the River Murray people and lived for some years at Berri in the South Australian Riverland.)


Nici Cumpston is an Adelaide based photographic artist and curator. Her practice focuses on creating awareness of places that were and still are important by showing past occupation by Aboriginal people. As Cumpston says, “people can have cultural obligations to many locations over great distances so it is imperative that they have a deep understanding of how to survive. There are subtle signs in the landscape that inform varying clan groups of food and water sources. These signs are vital to survival in this county of extreme temperatures and vast distances between obvious fresh water supplies.”

In her series having-been-there Nici created images in response to her Barkindji family's ancestral country in the desert of central western New South Wales, Australia. A residency at the Fowler’s Gap Arid Zone Research Station, through the University of New South Wales, enabled her to take time walking the ridges, feeling the Country, watching the light and slowly taking in the surroundings that were rich in the spirit of her ancestors. 

Nici experienced evidence of Aboriginal occupation of this land prior to European settlement. As Nici says “I had the distinct sense that the ancestors had only just gone but they had left their calling cards to let us know how important these sites were for them.”

During six years working for the South Australian Police Force’s Photographic Department, Nici developed her darkroom skills, refining her ‘investigative eye,’ ever intent on finding concrete remnants of seemingly intangible histories. Her technique has evolved into digital prints on canvas produced from analogue negatives, a pragmatic solution to her desire to make larger scale works. With an increasing painterliness, her watercolor finish gives the works a translucent clarity.

With an honors degree in visual art from the University of South Australia, Nici values art history as an informant in her work as an artist, curator and educator. She is currently the Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Nici is also the recent recipient of the prestigious Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Museums’ Artists in Residency Award at the University of Virginia. That experience along with the opportunity to exhibit her photographs in Sun Valley in 2014 satisfied a long-term goal of bringing her work to America.


National Gallery of Australia
National Gallery of Victoria
Parliament House Collection Canberra
Macquarie Group Collection
Flinders University Art Collection
Adelaide Festival Center Foundation
South Australia Museum
Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection