Public works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Un­ti­tled, 2005, Univer­sity of the Sun­shine Coast col­lec­tion. Do­nated by Christopher Si­mon. On dis­play, Ngabung Djamga Gallery, Univer­sity of Sun­shine Coast, Sippy Downs, Queens­land.

NAATA Nun­gur­rayi, an 80-yearold Pin­tupi el­der, dis­cov­ered paint­ing only in the mid-1990s af­ter sit­ting next to her sis­ter Nancy and watch­ing her paint. Although at first ret­i­cent, Nun­gur­rayi soon de­vel­oped her own suc­cess­ful style. As a re­sult, she is now rep­re­sented in na­tional and in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tions and has had one of her paint­ings re­pro­duced on an Australia Post stamp.

Nun­gur­rayi’s tra­di­tional coun­try is in the Gib­son Desert of Western Australia, but dur­ing the time of the na­tive wel­fare pa­trols in the early 1960s she and her fam­ily were re­set­tled at Pa­punya in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory as part of Australia’s as­sim­i­la­tion pol­icy. It was at Pa­punya that the men first started ‘‘ dot paint­ing’’ on can­vas and cre­ated a move­ment cred­ited with bring­ing Abo­rig­i­nal art to in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. While the wives of the artists of­ten as­sisted with the paint­ing, they re­ceived lit­tle recog­ni­tion. It is only in re­cent years the women have started paint­ing in their own right.

In the early 1980s Nun­gur­rayi moved back closer to her an­ces­tral coun­try and she now lives at Kin­tore on the bor­der of WA and the North­ern Ter­ri­tory. The re­mote set­tle­ment has since be­come an im­por­tant cen­tre of western desert art with many artists from the Pa­punya Tula co-op­er­a­tive based there.

At Kin­tore Nun­gur­rayi is a re­spected el­der with im­por­tant cus­to­dial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to coun­try and women’s law, and this is de­picted in her paint­ings such as Un­ti­tled, 2005, part of the col­lec­tion of the Univer­sity of the Sun­shine Coast at Sippy Downs, north of Bris­bane. The paint­ing, along with other sub­stan­tial western desert works by Abo­rig­i­nal women, is housed in a pur­pose-built gallery on cam­pus that is open to the public.

Nun­gur­rayi’s paint­ing re­lates to Mar­rap­inti, a sa­cred wa­ter­hole lo­cated in the artist’s home­land, ac­cord­ing to Lisa Chan­dler, a lec­turer at the univer­sity. The paint­ing is dom­i­nated by sev­eral large group­ings of U-shaped lines and these are as­so­ci­ated with the designs painted on women’s bod­ies dur­ing cer­e­monies, Chan­dler ex­plains, while the curved mark­ings mir­ror the shape of women’s breasts. The paint­ing also de­picts the col­lec­tion of bush foods, such as desert raisins which are found through­out cen­tral Australia. The fruit can be eaten di­rectly from the plant or ground into flour and baked in the hot coals to make bush dam­per.

‘‘ The loose black line work in Naata Nun­gur­rayi’s paint­ing is par­tially cov­ered by the dense, vividly coloured dot­ting which is a com­mon stylis­tic fea­ture in the work of Pin­tupi women artists,’’ Chan­dler says. ‘‘ The heav­ily tex­tured sur­face forms a shift­ing field of glow­ing colour en­com­pass­ing strong sat­u­rated or­anges and pale ochres link­ing back to the desert land­scape.’’

Nun­gur­rayi’s paint­ing is the most sig­nif­i­cant work in the western desert col­lec­tion, univer­sity cu­ra­tor Dawn Oel­rich says.

‘‘ Even if I did not know of the im­por­tant cul­tural back­ground to her paint­ing, I would find this work ir­re­sistible,’’ she says. ‘‘ I am al­ways moved by the depth of con­nec­tion, to life, to spirit, to cul­ture and com­mu­nity that desert artists bring to their work but more than that, I love this work just for what it is: an en­er­getic and vi­brant paint­ing that moves and shim­mers.’’

Oel­rich says this is a con­fi­dent paint­ing by a woman who com­fort­ably paints with acrylics on linen. She chooses colour that re­flects the desert but also takes a more con­tem­po­rary ap­proach to an an­cient sub­ject. ‘‘ She has clearly blocked out the larger shapes with bold black lines and then filled the paint­ing with com­plex group­ings of colour in dots and spa­ces, to­tally fill­ing a large can­vas with a riot of colour to end up with a work of great beauty and ap­peal.’’

Poly­mer paint on linen, 150cm x 180 cm. Li­censed by Abo­rig­i­nal Artists Agency

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