HEALING THE COUNTRY Award-winning artist and traditional healer Betty Muffler wants to use her work and paintings to help heal the ills of the land
TRADITIONAL healer Betty Muffler wants to use art to nurse the earth back to health.
“We need to heal this country — my paintings show many of the good places in my country,” Muffler said.
“We need to heal this country, and give more respect to the land.”
In the 34th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Muffler won the Telstra Emerging Artist Award for her piece Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country).
The awards, hosted at the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, aim to recognise the contribution made by indigenous artists from regional and urban areas throughout Australia.
“My painting shows many of the good places in my country,” Muffler said.
“This is my country, this is ngangkari (traditional healer) country — it’s healing, it’s good.”
Muffler’s paintings are layered, complicated; with her winning entry made up of many layers of synthetic polymer paint on linen.
Muffler was born in 1944 in a remote bush area near the border of South and Western Australia.
Her parents both died in the Maralinga bombing, a series of nuclear bomb tests in the mid-1950s in remote SA.
“I’m a strong kungka (woman) — I survived the bombings at Maralinga, but many of my family didn’t,” Muffler said.
“There was no school for me — I used to do washing dishes and cleaning.”
Before his death, Muffler’s father — also a healer — taught her some of the skills that she still uses today in her healing practices.
In her 20s, Muffler lived with family at the Granite Downs Station — where she learned the skills of traditional healing.
Muffler has worked as a traditional healer in hospitals in Adelaide, Coober Pedy, Whyalla and Alice Springs — and in the first clinics across the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.
“I’ve travelled all over the place, everywhere on the APY Lands,” Muffler said.
“I was a good ngangkari (traditional healer), and (the community) would come get me in case sick people needed me at the clinic.
“Before the clinic was there, the nuns used to help sick people in the bush; they would send them people away to hospital if they were sick.
“But ngangkari (traditional healers) can see right through people to what sickness is inside. “Then they can heal them straight away.” As well as being a traditional healer, Muffler worked at the first preschool in Indulkana with the community’s youngest residents.
Muffler still works on APY Lands, where she is an artist based out of Iwantja Art Centre.
The art centre is a not for profit, Aboriginalowned and run corporation — about five hours south of Alice Springs.
Her paintings reflect the land and journeys she has travelled throughout the years.
In their comments, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards’ judges praised Muffler’s maturity.
“Ngangkari Ngura is comprised of complex interconnected forms that unfurl to reveal linear representations of country,” judges said.
“This painting reflects her intimate relationship to place, inspired by her many travels across the landscape as a ngangkari (traditional healer).
“For an emerging artist, there is a surprising maturity in the controlled rhythm and pictorial dynamism which has been achieved.”
The 2017 judges were independent curator Emily McDaniel, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art director Chris Saines and artist Regina Wilson.
Muffler’s work will be on display at The Museum and Art Gallery of the NT until November 26.
Betty Muffler won the Telstra Emerging Artist Award at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards