Tiwi Design Aboriginal Corporation was incorporated in 1980 and is one of the longest established Indigenous art centres in Australia. However, the beginnings of Tiwi Design emerged in 1969 when two young men, Bede Tungatalum and Giovanni Tipungwuti began carving into wood blocks and printing onto textiles. These young men became known as the first Indigenous screen-printers in Australia and began a tradition that continues today at Tiwi Design. Bathurst Island and the larger Melville Island comprise the Tiwi Islands where Tiwi have lived for millennia.
Tiwi have a proud history and rich, living culture that is expressed through the art produced. The art of body painting for ceremony has been practiced for thousands of years and the traditional form of mark making is derived from the creation story. Tiwi are the traditional owners of Bathurst Island and most people communicate principally in their own language making Tiwi the main language spoken on Bathurst Island. English is taught as a second language in the school.
Culture and ceremony are strong and there is a number of different skin groups on Bathurst Island that are handed down from generation to generation. Dancing or yoi is a part of everyday life as well as important in ceremonies and Tiwi inherit their totemic dance from their mother. Singing always accompanies dancing and new songs are continually being created. Tiwi often dance at Tiwi Design exhibition openings showing the interconnectedness between the art and the body paintings and dances.
Tiwi are proud that they use materials such as ochre, ironwood, and pandanus and bird feathers from their land to create their art, reinforcing the strength of country and culture within the art. Hunting for traditional food on the land and in the sea is still an important part of Tiwi life.