Wayampajarti Area - Recent paintings from Fitzroy Crossing, WA.

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Published Wednesday, 28 August 2002

The sisters Jukuna Mona Chuguna and Ngarta Jinny Bent create a colourful and poetic views of their land, but behind their vision is the desire to spread the word about their custodianship of the land. On view at Alcaston Gallery in Fitzroy, Melbourne until September 13.

The Fitzroy Crossing indigenous community produced a very large collaborative work titled Ngurrara which they presented to various Governments in order to claim Native Title in 1997. From this large work sprang a number of works by some of the 60 collaborating artists.

For those who were able to view the 18th NATSIAA award at the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory or who viewed the online catalogue would have first seen the key piece in this current show at Alcaston Gallery- Wayampajarti Area. This was painted in 2000 (at the Biennale of Lyon, France) by Jukuna Mona Chuguna (b c. 1933) and Ngarta Jinny Bent (b c. 1935-2002), sisters from Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia, and measures 220 x 508 cm. This work is extraordinary for the obvious warmth and empathy for the land that it reveals, evident in the highly keyed palette and melodic flow of lines and contours, somewhat at odds with the physical appearance of this desert land of the Kimberley.

Their land is defined by the waterhole, and the entirety of their custodial holding is captured in the painting Wayampajarti Area. This picture defines with line and shape the primary features of their land and the radiant colours suggest the warmth of feeling for their land. Jukuna said about this painting:
There is a word we are thinking of now – ngalkarla. It means spreading the word. That is what we want to do with this painting, to let people know.[Cited from Kattja Now: Indigenous Arts Australia, Lowitja O’Donoghue, Wakefiled Press & Tandanya, 2001].

This large work defines the waterholes (Jila) painted in blue, the sandhills (jilji) in russet-coloured lines, the salty clay pans (pirnti) in white, and the scrub and trees in green. It is a matrix of a topographical view, a legal document of ownership, a narrative and a work of art, that cannot be dismantled. It is this tension that gives each work in this exhibition a very strong sense of presence.

It was intended that each sister depict each of the 10 water holes, but Ngarta was only able to paint nine, before she passed away in May this year. Nonetheless, the 19 smaller works are a wonderful fusion of the representation of the trees as decorative motifs and the strong shapes and colour that form the field.

The other works in the exhibition are of the various waterholes depicted in the larger work.

Accompanying this review are two paintings of the Wanyngula waterhole – as seen by each sister. Jukuna’s description of her painting of the Wanyngula waterhole is: There is water under the ground at Wanyngula but it’s salty and we can’t drink it. It is a place where we camped during the wet season and through until the cold season. We got drinking water from a nearby soak. There are lots of (bush onions) growing in that area and we ate lots of them when we lived there.

Wayampajarti Area

Reviewed by Martin Shub August 2002.

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