Susan Marawarr, Jennifer Wurrkidj & Deborah Wurrkidj
Opening: Friday 20th April 2018 at 6 pm
Dates: 20 April to 26 May 2018
Karrang Kunred/Mother-Land unites three senior Kuninjku women of the Kurulk clan who are closely related: sisters Jennifer Wurrkidj and Deborah Wurrkidj and aunt Susan Marawarr. Artistic boundaries are pushed for the first time in this exhibition by connecting traditional bark paintings, lorrkon (hollow logs) and Mimih carving, alongside experimental textile prints.
Karrang Kunred in Kuninjku means ‘mother’s homeland’ or ‘the country of my mother’. The women chose this title for their exhibition as the women share one ‘mother country’ — the stone country in West Arnhem Land, near Mumeka and Barrihdjowkkeng homelands and to celebrates the strength and vibrancy of women’s art. In general speech, the artists refer to this country as their ‘mother’, which reveals the deep cultural connection to place.
As Deborah Wurrkidj speaking about the significance of Karrang Kunred says: “We are thinking about our land. Our thoughts always return to our homeland. The old people, they taught us all this a long time ago. My father’s sisters, my mother’s mother and my aunties, they taught us, and now we know.”
The palette of country, rocky sandstone escarpments scattered with rock art, dense paper bark forest, freshwater rivers and seasonal floodplains, is shown throughout with paintings featuring only natural pigments collected on country, baskets crafted and coloured from natural fibres from country and textile printing colours chosen to mirror these hues. This exhibition reveals the artist’s knowledge of ceremony and culture and intimate connections to the surrounding bushlands, bush foods, sacred sites, ancestor spirits and everyday objects. Of course, the Mimih figure makes an appearance: their tall, thin sculptural bodies introduces the humour that surrounds beliefs in beings are so thin that a gentle wind can break their necks. Luke Taylor explains: "There are also salacious stories of mimih leading human hunters astray and taking them to their rock country world where the hunters fall in love with mimih women and refuse to return."
The paintings are deeply rooted in traditional culture, but are contemporary and dynamic. The rarrk design which appears on both print and textile is a unique interpretation of a metaphysical experience with country. The delicately gridded and finely dotted painting styles are ‘inspired by’ or reflective of ceremonial body paint designs. These are called the ‘outside' version not the 'inside’. (Altman in Mumeka to Milmilngkan. Innovation in Kurulk Art, 2006, p.26.)
Ingrid Johansen, co-curator, writes: "Amongst the Kuninjku people, certain sites are associated with djang. Djang relates to the ancestral beings and powers of country. Djang sites and stories belonging to Karrang Kunred country are depicted throughout this exhibition. Djang in this exhibition include the Yawkyawk female water spirit living in certain Arnhem Land freshwater rivers with long hair (which can be mistaken for seaweed), bare breasts and a fish-like tail. For the Kuninjku, yawkyawk is also the word used for ‘young woman’. Kunmadj (dilly bags) and Mandjabu (fish traps) are objects commonly depicted in the work of the three artists, items celebrated for their utilitarian as well as cultural significance.
Wak Wak is another sacred djang story that relates to the black crow ancestor called Djimarr. Wak Wak is shown on Deborah Wurrkidj’s four layer screen design of the same name, with its intricate rarrk (cross hatching) across the layers coming together to create the feeling of movement and depth. The rarrk technique is created by painting consistent cross hatched strokes over many layers and is evident in the lorrkon, barks and textile design in this exhibition. The artists paint rarrk using native reed stems which have been whittled down to create thin brush like utensils."
All three women are from a strong line of Kuninjku artists who live on homelands and in Maningrida, Arnhem Land. Work by the Wurrkidj sisters’ uncle James Iyuna, who taught his two nieces how to paint, is featured in collections internationally. Susan Marawarr's startling black and white palette in particular pushes new ways of painting, perhaps to differentiate her hand from that of John Marwurndjul, her brother and a Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award winner. (Marwurndjul is holding a retrospective exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney from June 2018 a decade after his retrospective exhibition at the Museum Tinguely, Basel in 2005).
Anthropologist Jon Altman explaina: "The strategic use of art as a source of political and economic power has provided Kurulk with a means to define their difference, mark social and geographic boundaries, substantiate claims to country and find an economic means to live on country. This has seen the emergence of new artistic social relations very evident in place-based and stylistically distinct schools of art where people live together, work together and teach each other." (Altman in Mumeka to Milmilngkan. Innovation in Kurulk Art, 2006, p.26.)
Yet, work by Top End women artists is rarely featured in public institutions other than in large group exhibitions: Susan Marawarr featured in the acclaimed Crossing Country (curator Hetti Perkins, AGNSW 2004) and has worked with celebrated artist Judy Watson on a major commission (Sydney International Airport 2000). Certainly very little work by Kuninkju women artists has been seen in a solo context in a public museum.But this is changing. The women of Maningrida are a large part of a lively contemporary art scene and are strong voices advocating for change—cultural, economic, environmental. Through the Babbarra Women’s Governance Group the artists are lobbying for better health services in Maningrida, for environmental protection of (against fracking, the Stingray Sisters led the way here), and supporting people's return to life on homelands.
This is the first time traditional painting and experimental 'craft' process of printmaking have been shown side-by-side, reaching beyond contemporary artworld norms to show the feminist framework for practice in Maningrida. it is a community alliance that has proudly brought together two institutions: Maningrida Arts and Culture and Babbarra Womens' Centre.
As Jennifer Wurrkidj explains the cultural significance: “Us bininj (Aboriginal) mob, we are same like our country. That country is like us, and we are like that country, like family. We are just one, same like them animals, snakes, birds – any type really. And when we pass, it just goes back in like one circle, you know. Like that, that’s the story”.
Works selected by: the artists with Kate O'Hara, Maningrida Arts and Crafts and Ingrid Johanson, Babbarra Women's Centre.
Jennifer Wurrkidj, Kururrk Kare (Going Underground), (detail) silkscreen print (three colour), 2018. Photo: Ingrid Johanson. Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre.
Susan Marawarr, Man-monan / Billy goat plumb tree (Terminalia carpentariae), silkscreen. Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre.
Deborah Wurrkidj, Susan Marawarr and Jennifer Wurrkidj at the 'mother country' near Mumeka and Barrihdjowkkeng homelands, the stone country in West Arnhem Land in 2018. Photo Ingrid Johanson.
Deborah Wurrkidj, Wak (Sacred Site), silk screen print, single panel. Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre.
Deborah Wurrkidj, Lorrkon detail. Courtesy Maningrida Arts and Culture.
Deborah Wurrkidj, design for Marreh-boh (woven pandanus mats). Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre.
Jennifer Wurrkidj, Lorrkon (Hollow Funeral Log) Design (detail). Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre.
Babbarra studio printing Deborah Wurrkidj, Marreh-boh (woven pandanus mats). Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre.
Deborah Wurrkidj, Lorrkon, 2017. Natural pigment on ironbark, 148 x 18cm. Courtesy Maningrida Arts and Culture.
Jennifer Wurrkidj, Lorrkon, 2017. Natural pigment on ironbark, 151 x 10cm. Courtesy Maningrida Arts and Culture.
Susan Marawarr, Lorrkon, 2017. Natural pigment on ironbark, 132 x 17 x16cm. Courtesy Maningrida Arts and Culture.
Jennifer Wurrkidj, Lorrkkon (Hollow Funeral Log). Design drawing. Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre.
Deborah Wurrkidj, Wak Wak, 2017. Natural pigment on bark, 191 x 77cm. Courtesy Maningrida Arts and Culture.
Jennifer Wurrkidj, Waterkukt, Longneck Turtle and Barramundi, 2017. Natural pigment on ironbark, 148 x 18cm. Courtesy Maningrida Arts and Culture.
Deborah Wurrkidj, Susan Marawarr and Jennifer Wurrkidj collect pandanus leaves at the 'mother country' near Mumeka and Barrihdjowkkeng homelands, West Arnhem Land in 2018. Photo Ingrid Johanson. Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre.
At the 'mother country' near Mumeka and Barrihdjowkkeng homelands, West Arnhem Land in 2018. Photo Ingrid Johanson. Courtesy Babbarra Women's Centre,
Susan Marawarr - mandjabu ‘fishtrap’
Deborah Wurrkidj - Kundayarr
About the Artists
Kuninjku artist, Susan Marawarr, was born in 1967 at Maningrida in north-central Arnhem Land. She is the daughter of artists, Anchor Kulunba and Mary Marabamba and the sister of eminent bark painters James Iyuna and John Mawurndjul. Marawarr is a skilled printmaker, sculptor, weaver and bark painter, known for her striking black and white palette. Her works have a graphic and optical effect, where her intricate patterns often intertwine and overlap. Common subjects include the djang (the Dreaming) of Wak Wak, Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent) and yawkyawk (female water spirit), alongside the imagery of dilly bags, fish-traps, mats and baskets, which may also have symbolic dimension.
She collaborated with Waanyi artist Judy Watson for Watson’s public art commission of bronze fish fences and dillybags installed at Sydney International Airport, and toured the USA with Bush Colour, promoting the work of female printmakers and supervising bark painting workshops. For over a decade, Marawarr’s artworks has been presented by Maningrida Arts and Culture and within their collective shows. She has also featured in exhibitions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales [Crossing Country, 2004 and work is held in the collections of Art Gallery of Western Australia, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Victoria and National Gallery of Australia. Susan has since 2001 worked with Babbarra and she featured as one of the senior artists, mentoring the junior artists, in a group exhibition, Báb-barra: Women’s Printing Culture at The Cross Art Projects (2017) [http://www.crossart.com.au/current-show].
Kuninjku artist, Deborah Wurrkidj, was born in 1971 at Maningrida in north-central Arnhem Land. As an artist, she relishes new art forms while maintaining her strong clan traditions and her deep connection to country and cultural knowledge and natural environment. Since 1991, Deborah has worked alongside her mother, Helen Lanyinwanga, and sister Jennifer Wurrkidj at Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Deborah’s intricate designs are illustrative of the artistic innovation in Maningrida since the 1990s: in painting, printmaking, carvings and weaving. Deborah Wurrkidj made beautiful work for Replant: A New Generation of Botanical Art (2006), a print project with artists and scientists working Daly River NT initiated by Nomad Art with Basil Hall Editions. She is a graduate of the ANKAAA Arts Worker Extension Program (2014), where she learnt more of the administrative and business side of the art world. She stated, “I want to be a leader and help others understand more about the business side of making art. I have enjoyed looking at different galleries.” She has exhibited widely since 2001, throughout Australia as well as in Europe and the United States.
Jennifer Wurrkidj is a highly regarded textile artist who has been working at Bábbarra Designs since 2007 with her mother, Helen Lanyinwanga, and sister Deborah Wurrkidj. Her print designs often feature bush foods and food-collecting and reference the activities of ancestor beings and the ceremonial sites of her homeland, Mumeka. She is a daughter of highly acclaimed bark painter, John Mawurndjul, and is renowned, in her own right for her bark paintings, hollow logs and carved sculptures. She was married to the late Hamish Karrkarrhba, another fine artist and the pair collaborated on many works. Jennifer’s artwork has been exhibited throughout Australia and her textile art is in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. She is a graduate of the ANKA Arts Worker Training Program.
Artist Biographies adapted from: DAAO biography by Emma Sheehan and Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Last modified 2017.
The artists are represented by: Maningrida Arts and Culture (painting and weaving) and Bábbarra Women’s Centre (hand-printed textiles) at Maningrida in Central Arnhem Land.
ANKA, Darwin: Talking Up Textiles: Community Fabric and Indigenous Industry. Stories from the Forum in Gunbalanya, August 2012. http://ankaaa.org.au/publication/talking-up-textiles/
Altman, Jon and Kohen, Appolline. Mumeka to Milmilngkan. Innovation in Kurulk Art. Canberra: Drill Hall Gallery, 2006. Exhibition catalogue. Interviews with James Iyuna, John Mawurndjul, Melba Gunjarrwanga, Kay Lindjuwanga and others. See especially: Altman, Jon. “A New generation of artists and the freedom to paint.” In Mumeka to Milmilngkan – Innovation in Kurulk Art , 49-60.
BÁB-BARRA: Women Printing Culture by Claire Summers, Executive Director, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation, DHub online journal, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), Sydney. https://www.dhub.org/category/fashion-dress/
Bush Colour: work on paper by women artists from Maningrida, exhibition catalogue, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Maningrida, 2000.
Dianne Moon (curator), Fine Lines: works of ornamentation and decoration by Maningrida Artists. A comprehensive exhibition bringing together works made by women from Maningrida in the 1980s, 1999. Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA).
Djon Mundine, Interview with Djon Mundine, Ramingining, 18 August, 1988 by Howard Morphy.
Djon Mundine, Two hundred burial poles:The Aboriginal memorial. In S. Kleinert and M. Neale (eds), The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, 2000, pp.142–6. Oxford University Press, South Melbourne
Judith Ryan, ‘At the forefront: Aboriginal art from Maningrida and beyond’ in A. Ducreux, F. Salmon and A. Kohen (eds), In the Heart of Arnhem Land: Myth and the making of contemporary Aboriginal art, 2001 pp.11–26. Musée del’Hôtel-Dieu, Paris.
Perkins, Hetti, Crossing Country: The Alchemy of Western Arnhem Land Art. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2004. Exhibition catalogue. See in this, Altman, Jon. “Brokering Kuninjku Art: Artists, Institutions and the Market.”
Salmon, Fiona. Bush Colour: Works on paper by female artists from the Maningrida region. Curated by JudyWatson. Darwin: Northern Territory University Gallery, 1999. Exhibition catalogue.
Luke Taylor, Seeing the Inside: Bark painting in western Arnhem Land, 1996, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Taylor, Luke. “Themes and paintings in ceremonies.” In Seeing the Inside by Luke Taylor, 102-127. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1996.
To the artists and Kate O'Hara and Ingrid Johanson for selecting the concept and works. Jo Holder thanks Claire Summers, CEO Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair for her encouragement of the project and Fiona MacDonald, The Cross Art Projects.
Thank you: Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation; Dr Catriona Moore, Department of Art History, Sydney University and Contemporary Art and Feminism.