This exhibition is brought to you by Outstation, in collaboration with the following art centres:
- John Mawurndjul
- Kay Lindjuwanga
- Noah Wurrkidj
- Rosina Gunjarrwanga
- Semeria Wurrkidj
- Susan Marawarr
Artists lead the way for Kuninjku people. Balang John Mawurndjul AM is a community, clan and artistic leader. He speaks of the influence of his parents: Anchor Kulunba, a revered marrkidjbu (healer) and maker of mandjabu (fish trap); and Mary Wurrdjedje, expert at cultural practices, such as making sting bags, dilly bags and ‘bush’ bread. In turn, Mawurndjul has mentored his wife Kay Lindjwanga and his children, including Noah Wurrkidj and Semeria Wurrkidj. His leadership has also inspired his sister Susan Marawarr and his niece, Susan’s daughter Rosina Gunjarrwanga.
This exhibition brings together new work from the Kurulk clan. Emerging from an artistic dynasty, the work of the next generation reveals new ways, whilst affirming the integrity and strength of Kuninjku painting.
Kurulk country continues to be the bedrock of artistic practice. Noah, Semeria and Rosina largely grew up on their homelands at Mumeka and Milmingkan outstations. In the 1990s this generation absorbed the immense knowledge of their parents, uncles and grandparents at Mumeka. The sites, ancestors and designs of Kurulk country continue to inform their work. Noah explains, “I only paint Duwa [moiety]: Buluwana, Dilebang, Kurruldul, yawkyawk, Milmingkan, manjabu, djulng, wak. That’s my choice”.
Noah started painting after his first son was born in the early 2000s. He is recognised for the remarkable fineness of his rarrk (crosshatching). His delicate touch creates a lightness which is further enhanced by the white base that emanates through the repetitive grids. In this exhibition he explores the themes of wak (black crow ancestor) and the sacred place dilebang, a duwa site that contains many potent ancestor spirits, including the bones of the deceased ancestors, djulng. Close to the site are waterholes where the volatile Ngalyod (rainbow serpent) resides, which the artist depicts as white circles.
Mawurndjul has played an important role in the rise of Kuninjku women artists, encouraging his wife and later his daughters, Anna Wurrkidj, Semeria Wurrkidj and Josephine Wurrkidj, to pursue careers in their own right. Semeria’s rarrk is perhaps most evocative of her father’s Mardayin period in the first decade of the 2000s. However, she makes clear that her design references different subject matter, the creek, mankabo, that flows from Kurrurldul to Milmingkan outstations. Like her peers, she strictly depicts ‘outside’ stories. In contrast to her brother’s considered grids, Semeria’s work emanates a warm glow and fluid rhythm. The white lines represent the creek which wanders over the surface to give a sense of continuation beyond the picture plane.
Gunjarrwanga is easily recognised by her red, black and white palette and coarse, energetic rarrk. She paints wak, djang (‘Dreaming’) she is djungkay (manager) for. She was taught the process and parameters of painting by her parents, Joshua Junuwanga and Susan Marawarr, however early on they encouraged her to find her own visual language. She made a mark in the contemporary art scene in late 2019 as one of the young artists selected for Primavera: Young Australian Artists at the MCA in Sydney.
Susan Marawarr is a force. Her work stands apart and is defined by her iconic black and white palette, and confident, dynamic mark-making. It no surprise that she taught herself to paint: “My dad made manjabu, real manjabu. I get [ideas] from my dad but I try doloppo. I paint doloppo. I didn’t watch people. I learned from myself.” In this exhibition Marawarr paints kunkurra (wind) and wak (black crow). She describes kunkurra as the wind you feel when you’re sitting in the shade during kurrung, the build-up season when it’s hot and humid. It’s not djang (‘Dreaming’). It’s duwa, like me”.
Noah, Semeria and Rosina have learned the impeccable techniques for which Kuninjku painters are renowned. They respect and care for the processes of harvesting, preparing the natural materials, and painting rarrk, line by line, layer by layer. These works are defined by technique, restraint and patience. This has stood Kuninjku artists apart and, unquestionably, the next generation are maintaining this standard of excellence.
Text by Chloe Gibbon
Copyright Maningrida Arts & Culture
Primavera 2019: Young Australian Artists, 2019, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
Private communication with author