Exhibition News

PUMPUNI JILAMARA - Tiwi Art

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Published Sunday, 16 June 2002

Yiribana Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Gallery at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Saturday 6 July 2002 to Sunday 12 January 2003.

The Tiwi people live on Bathurst and Melville Islands that lie approximately 20 minutes flight from Darwin off the north coast of Australia. Melville Island is the second largest Australian island and is separated from Bathurst Island by the narrow Apsley Straits.

This exhibition, Pumpuni Jilamara, brings together the Gallery’s collection of Tiwi art that spans five decades, and demonstrates an enduring relationship with Melville Island artists in particular.

Tiwi culture possesses its own aesthetic dynamic. Tiwi ceremonial life brings together all aspects of Tiwi art – song, dance, body decoration, sculpture and painting. Tiwi people are famous for its ceremonial performance and related body painting, particularly the elaborate designs used on the face. The purifying and transforming element of fire is also significant in all ceremonies.

In 1959 the Art Gallery of New South Wales acquired seventeen Tutini ( Pukumani graveposts) that had been carved and painted at Milikapiti on Melville Island in October 1958. The graveposts were commissioned by the Gallery’s Deputy-Director Tony Tuckson and gifted by orthopedic surgeon Dr Stuart Scougall. The Pukumani ceremony eases the passage of the deceased to the world of the dead.

These Tutini were the first large commission of Aboriginal art for a public art collection and have remained on prominent display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales ever since.

Kutuwalumi Purawarrumpatu, better known as Kitty Kantilla, is one of the most senior and most celebrated living Tiwi artist. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has collected an outstanding selection of Kantilla’s work since 1995. This body of work includes paintings on paper and canvas, and etchings and lithographs.

The planes of lines and dots that cover the surface of Kantilla’s paintings are directly based on body-painting conventions for the Pukumani and Kulama ceremonies. The Kulama rituals are concerned with yam increase and initiation. Her constant innovation has its nexus in the tight connection between seemingly abstract designs and their arrangement on the two-dimensional plane.

Kitty Kantilla and other Tiwi artists of her generation such as Taracarijimo Freda Warlapinni seldom describe or explain their work, preferring to let the paintings exert their power on the viewer. The subtly varied aesthetic sensibility of each of the artists demonstrates the versatility of the Tiwi visual language.

Pedro Wonaeamirri is a young artist who has already attained a high profile. The Art Gallery purchased a group of six Tutini by Wonaeamirri that were exhibited in Australian Perspecta 1999. One of these Tutini features a carved figure of the ancestor Purukupali, crowned with a cockatoo-feather headdress. Wonaeamirri makes extensive use of the traditional paintings techniques, including the use of the painting ‘comb’ to apply lines of dots. Significantly Woneaemirri is one of the few young Tiwi who speaks the classic Old Tiwi language, and he is a strong advocate for cultural maintenance.

Pedro Wonaeamirri is also the President of Jilamara Arts, the artists’ cooperative at Milikapti, Melville Island. To celebrate the opening of Pumpuni Jilamara and NAIDOC Week, Womaeamirri will undertake a series of workshops in the Yiribana Gallery from 8 to 12 July.

"Tiwi art, in its myriad yet distinctive expressions, celebrates a unique culture. It is the thread that links the ancestors of the past to the artists of the present. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is very fortunate to have commissioned and acquired such a significant collection of early and contemporary works representing the Tiwi people," said Hetti Perkins, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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