Tjigila Nada Rawlins: Living Water by Jess Booth

Nada Rawlins, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia, 2003. Photo: Stephen Dupont

Nada Rawlins, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia, 2003. Photo: Stephen Dupont

I was born in the Great Sandy Desert. My mother never put me in a blanket. I never saw my father. We walked from the desert along the Canning Stock Route. We walked because we had no motorcar. We carried our swags on our heads.

To provide some context for this incredible statement on the Mangkaja Arts website, the Canning Stock Route is almost 2000 kilometres in length and traverses three deserts — the Great Sandy, the Little Sandy and the Gibson, in northern Western Australia. Tjigila Nada Rawlins is one of a generation of Indigenous people whose livelihoods have centred around understanding the elusive yet bountiful offerings of these hot, harsh, desert climates.

Nada Rawlins, Linjalangu 2017, acrylic on perspex, 60 x 90cm. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada Rawlins, Linjalangu 2017, acrylic on perspex, 60 x 90cm. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

A highly sought-after and idiosyncratic painter, Nada works through Indigenous-owned and operated Mangkaja Arts in Fitzroy Crossing. Her paintings are distinctive, robust and highly saturated interpretations of her country.

Nada was born about 1936 near Kirriwirri, in the southern stretches of Wangkatjungka country. Nada’s family, traditional owners of this part of the desert, are expert at sourcing fresh water from the Percival lakes, a chain of warla (salt lakes) spanning hundreds of kilometres. Nada paints the warla, the jilas (living freshwater holes) and the jilji (sandhills). Stripes and long lines represent “the places she walked with her family as a young girl” (Mangkaja Arts).

A dingo on the salt lakes of Warla, 1990s. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

A dingo on the salt lakes of Warla, 1990s. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada’s career is long and varied. She began painting in the 1980s at Fitzroy Crossing’s Karrayili Adult Education Centre. When the Mangkaja Arts centre was built, she began working there, largely teaching herself through observation of other artists.

Recently Nada has begun experimenting with acrylic paint and paint pens on Perspex, with very exciting results. She won the Shinju Art Prize in Broome for her first piece on Perspex in 2016, and this year has another Perspex piece in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, currently on show at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Nada Rawlins working on a Perspex work, 2017. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada Rawlins working on a Perspex work, 2017. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada Rawlins, Yimirri 2017, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 90cm. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada Rawlins, Yimirri 2017, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 90cm. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada is now quite elderly, but her output belies this fact – she creates work with incredible energy and pulse. This dynamism seems borne out of her intimate knowledge of her country’s wealth and abundance. Speaking of one of her homeland’s key waterholes, Nada says: “This is Kirriwirri Jila… The water never dries up in this jila – this is living water” (Japingka Aboriginal Art).

Historical image of Nada on a trip to Warla – the salt lakes in her country – in the 1990s. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Historical image of Nada on a trip to Warla – the salt lakes in her country – in the 1990s. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada Rawlins, Yimirri 2017, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 90cm. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada Rawlins, Yimirri 2017, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 90cm. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada’s work is available through Mangkaja Arts, as well as a number of commercial galleries including Vivien Anderson Gallery (Melbourne), McCulloch & McCulloch (Victoria), ReDot Gallery (Singapore) and Outstation Gallery (Darwin).
 
Thanks to Nada’s daughter Nita Williams and Mangkaja Arts director Jennifer Dickens, who sat down together to talk through these questions with Nada. Thanks also to Belinda Cook for her assistance with this piece.

This post first appeared on The Design Files on 14 September 2017.

Nada Rawlins painting with Mangkaja artists at Warla, 1996. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

Nada Rawlins painting with Mangkaja artists at Warla, 1996. Photo: Mangkaja Arts.

The Artists of Ampilatwatja: a film project by Jess Booth

(L-R): Colleen Ngwarraye Morton, Rosie Ngwarraye Ross, Margaret Kemarre Ross and Beverly Pula Luck searching for bush medicine. Image courtesy Lara Damiani.

(L-R): Colleen Ngwarraye Morton, Rosie Ngwarraye Ross, Margaret Kemarre Ross and Beverly Pula Luck searching for bush medicine. Image courtesy Lara Damiani.

Documentary film maker Lara Damiani of Think Films has made a name for herself capturing the stories of people and communities. Working with NGOs, international aid and humanitarian organisations, "and others with a passion for social development and social justice", Damiani's work often takes her to remote places. In 2010 Ampilatwatja became one of those places, when she embarked upon a journey to the Central Desert that has culminated in a series of short films about the artists of Artists of Ampilatwatja. We were excited to learn of Damiani's work with the artists, two of which - Colleen Ngwarraye Morton and Rosie Ngwarraye Ross - are behind our Ampilatwatja Collection of fabrics and wallpapers.

In 2010 Damiani made her first trip out to Ampilatwatja after learning about a 'walk-off' staged by residents of the community in response to the Northern Territory Government's intervention. After this introduction to Ampilatwatja, she discovered another event in that community's history - the 1949 'walk-off' in which Alyawarr elder Banjo Morton and a host of other Indigenous stockmen demanded fair wages in return for their labour at the Lake Nash Cattle Station. Drawn to this important but little known piece of post-colonial history, Damiani created 'Meet Banjo'

Through this work Damiani has come to know many of the women of Ampilatwatja. On her 2014 trip to the community she began filming artist Lily Kemarre Morton painting and telling the stories within her work. Damiani was inspired to obtain funding through the NT Government and returned in 2016 to begin filming the artists in earnest.

 

"Most of the artists paint Arreth, which translates to ‘strong bush medicine’, demonstrating a deep connection to country. For the Alyawarr people, their land has provided and sustained for generations. The paintings pay homage to the significance and use of traditional bush medicine, allowing an insight into their community."

Artists of Ampilatwatja

 

The photo essay below captures a trip Damiani took with the artists, in which she learned more about the various bush medicine plants and their uses.

Links to the seven wonderful films, with animation by Karu Karu Studio, can be found after these images. We would like to thank Lara for her generosity in supplying the imagery and background information for this piece.

Artist Colleen Ngwarraye Morton showing some traditional bush medicine. Image courtesy Lara Damiani.

Artist Colleen Ngwarraye Morton showing some traditional bush medicine. Image courtesy Lara Damiani.

Filming artist Daisy Kemarre Moss telling the story of her painting, outside of Ampilatwatja. Image courtesy Lara Damiani

Filming artist Daisy Kemarre Moss telling the story of her painting, outside of Ampilatwatja. Image courtesy Lara Damiani

Artist Kathleen Nanima Rambler showing a traditional comb - women used this to brush their hair. Image courtesy Lara Damiani.

Artist Kathleen Nanima Rambler showing a traditional comb - women used this to brush their hair. Image courtesy Lara Damiani.

Artist Daisy Kemarre Moss with some traditional bush food / berries. Image courtesy Lara Damiani

Artist Daisy Kemarre Moss with some traditional bush food / berries. Image courtesy Lara Damiani

Artists Margaret Kemarre Ross (left) and Beverly Pula Luck (right). Image courtesy Lara Damiani.

Artists Margaret Kemarre Ross (left) and Beverly Pula Luck (right). Image courtesy Lara Damiani.

Damiani's film on Rosie Ngwarraye Ross, creator of Willie Weston's Sugarbag Dreaming design, is below:

Margaret Rarru: 'black is beautiful' by Jess Booth

Margaret Rarru’s Bathi Mul (black dilly bags) on the beach of Milingimbi Island. Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Margaret Rarru’s Bathi Mul (black dilly bags) on the beach of Milingimbi Island. Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Margaret Rarru Garrawurra – or Rarru, as she’s known around her home of Milingimbi – reckons she was “a good sized yothu (kid / teenager)” when she first started to weave. Rarru sat down with her Ngama (Mother) and Mukul (aunties) and learnt to make the bathi (dilly bags) that generations of women have produced across Arnhem Land. At the time Rarru was living at the mission on Elcho Island, and was also taught coil basketry by the balanda (white) ladies there. Throughout her career, Rarru has effortlessly incorporated both these techniques into her practice.

Margaret Rarru. Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Margaret Rarru. Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

These days Rarru lives between Langarra (Howard Island) and Yurrwi (Milingimbi Island), around 400 kilometres east of Darwin. As well as being a masterful weaver, Rarru is also an acclaimed painter. In 2007 she was awarded the bark painting prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, and a number of her paintings are held in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria and the Queensland Art Gallery.

Rarru is famous in some circles for her Madonna Bra and Madonna Bag series, inspired by Madonna’s 1980s video clips. Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Rarru is famous in some circles for her Madonna Bra and Madonna Bag series, inspired by Madonna’s 1980s video clips. Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

When Rarru isn’t weaving she’s collecting gunga (pandanus) and balgurr (bark for making string). The gunga is stripped of its prickly edges, peeled in half, dried in the sun and dyed in a pot over a fire with roots, leaves or other natural materials, depending on the colour being created. Once dyed the gunga is dried again before it is ready to be woven. When dyed black, the gunga has a beautiful, warm charcoal tone, which is characteristic of Rarru’s incredible bathi mul (black dilly bags).

A Yothu Bathi (baby basket) by Margaret Rarru. Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

A Yothu Bathi (baby basket) by Margaret Rarru. Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Rarru has gained international recognition for her bathi mul, created with this natural dyed black gunga. These works “exemplify Rarru's outstanding understanding of form”, says Rosita Holmes, Studio Coordinator at Milingimbi Art and Culture. The bathi mul demonstrate Rarru’s sophisticated and somewhat minimalist design aesthetic, whilst being contemporary manifestations of an enduring weaving practice. Rarru says she loves making bathi mul because “black is beautiful”. We couldn’t agree more.

Robin Galitjbirr and Sonya Djndjarrngu modelling Rarru’s incredible Madonna Bras and Bags! Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Robin Galitjbirr and Sonya Djndjarrngu modelling Rarru’s incredible Madonna Bras and Bags! Photo: Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Thanks to Rosita Holmes, Chris Durkin and Helen Milminydjarrk for their assistance with this piece.

Margaret Rarru is busy! She is currently exhibiting as part of Walma / Moon Rise at Koskela Gallery, Sydney (29 July – 27 August 2017), will be Milingimbi Art and Culture’s feature artist at this year’s Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (11-13 August 2017) and has work in upcoming exhibitions at the Embassy of Australia, Washington DC, USA, Wooloongabba Art Gallery, Queensland and the University of NSW Gallery, Sydney.

This post first appeared on The Design Files on 3 August 2017.

On left: Puna Yanima, Antara, ink on paper, 152 x 135cm, courtesy Mimili Maku Arts. (Bathi L-R): Margaret Rarru, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 34 x 21cm; Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 29 x 17cm; Margaret Rarru, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 30 x 17cm. All works courtesy Milingimbi Art and Culture. Photo: Koskela.

On left: Puna Yanima, Antara, ink on paper, 152 x 135cm, courtesy Mimili Maku Arts. (Bathi L-R): Margaret Rarru, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 34 x 21cm; Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 29 x 17cm; Margaret Rarru, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 30 x 17cm. All works courtesy Milingimbi Art and Culture. Photo: Koskela.

In profile: Kade McDonald of Hanging Valley by Jess Booth

[L-R] Wukun Wanambi, Kade McDonald and Yinimala Gumana. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

[L-R] Wukun Wanambi, Kade McDonald and Yinimala Gumana. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Kade McDonald recently returned to Melbourne after nearly six years living and working in Yirrkala, north-east Arnhem Land, where he was coordinator at renowned Indigenous art centre Buku-Larrnggay Mulka. His experiences in the NT gave him an incredible insight into the diversity and vibrancy of contemporary Indigenous art practice. He arrived home galvanised to create a new platform to explore both Indigenous and non-Indigenous contemporary art – “something that would make some noise within the industry”.

Installation view of Sonia Kurarra solo exhibition at No Vacancy, Melbourne, 2016. Image courtesy Hanging Valley, Melbourne.

Installation view of Sonia Kurarra solo exhibition at No Vacancy, Melbourne, 2016. Image courtesy Hanging Valley, Melbourne.

Before taking a leap of faith and moving his partner and two kids, Iggy and Sailor, to a remote community at the top of Australia, Kade ran his own cafe in Northcote, Palomino, and was a partner in Joe’s Shoe Store, also in Northcote, and Piano Piano in Brunswick East. An “odd transition”, as he puts it, but in his earlier days Kade was a founding Director of artist-run initiative Bus Projects, so his curatorial roots run deep.

Works by Wukun Wanambi, Nawurapu Wunungmurra and Sonia Kurarra. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Works by Wukun Wanambi, Nawurapu Wunungmurra and Sonia Kurarra. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Fast forward to now, and Kade is the man behind Hanging Valley, a nimble, multi-faceted art incubator and consultancy with no fixed address and a remit to present the work of diverse practitioners in varied formats to “an audience starving for access to great works”.

Kade McDonald with works by [back] Nyarapayi Giles, Sonia Kurarra and [front] Rammey Ramsey and Mabel Juli. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Kade McDonald with works by [back] Nyarapayi Giles, Sonia Kurarra and [front] Rammey Ramsey and Mabel Juli. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Selection of unstretched artworks. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Selection of unstretched artworks. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

“I’m interested in the presentation of good contemporary art regardless of its origins. I wanted to re-connect with my Bus colleagues and with the people and art I had grown to know and appreciate in my time working with communities… I’m really enjoying being that conduit.”

Selection of works from the Hanging Valley stockroom. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Selection of works from the Hanging Valley stockroom. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Hanging Valley offers Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists “a unique spread…not only commercial shows but also skills development and major partnerships with institutions across the globe”. It operates as a pop up of sorts – Kade prefers “finding a space to suit the show and the artist and…the viewer experiencing a new location and discovery for every show”. So far he has presented shows at No Vacancy and Chapman & Bailey (Melbourne), Praxis Artspace (Adelaide) and RAFT South (Hobart).

Installation view of Wukun Wanambi's 'Trial Bay' 2016, natural ochre on hollow Eucalyptus Tetradonta. Image courtesy Hanging Valley, Melbourne.

Installation view of Wukun Wanambi's 'Trial Bay' 2016, natural ochre on hollow Eucalyptus Tetradonta. Image courtesy Hanging Valley, Melbourne.

Installation view of Middle Distance, curated by Kade McDonald and Marie Falcinella, praxis ARTSPACE, Adelaide, 2015. Image courtesy Hanging Valley, Melbourne.

Installation view of Middle Distance, curated by Kade McDonald and Marie Falcinella, praxis ARTSPACE, Adelaide, 2015. Image courtesy Hanging Valley, Melbourne.

Kade had a very full calendar in 2016 – “possibly too full” – so this year he’s focusing on producing fewer, more significant shows. He’s just returned from the USA with Wukun Wanambi and Yinimala Gumana, two talented curators and artists from Yirrkala. Together they are embarking upon a “monumental touring exhibition” showcasing seven decades of Yirrkala bark painting, in collaboration with the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Kade, Wukun and Yinimala spent a month researching the collections of The Smithsonian (Washington DC) and the American Museum of Natural History (New York), assessing and selecting works dating back to the 1940s. “The project, titled Madayin, will consume a huge part of my life for the next few years!” Madayin will tour the USA from 2020.

Wukun Wanambi and Yinimala Gumana, two talented curators and artists from Yirrkala. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Wukun Wanambi and Yinimala Gumana, two talented curators and artists from Yirrkala. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Wukun Wanambi. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Wukun Wanambi. Image courtesy Amelia Stanwix.

Look out for upcoming Hanging Valley ventures – Kade has few on the boil in the US and NZ and is working on a residency / exchange project with Durrmu Arts in Peppimenarti, NT. Hanging Valley is certainly one to watch.

This post first appeared on The Design Files on 15 June 2017.

Installation view of Sonia Kurarra solo exhibition at No Vacancy, Melbourne, 2016. Image courtesy Hanging Valley, Melbourne.

Installation view of Sonia Kurarra solo exhibition at No Vacancy, Melbourne, 2016. Image courtesy Hanging Valley, Melbourne.

The Ampilatwatja Collection in Garland magazine by Jess Booth

This article came about through a serendipitous meeting between the author Michelle Montgomery and Jess and Laetitia of Willie Weston. Over the summer of 2016-17 Willie Weston exhibited as part of At Home: Modern Australian Design at Old Government House in Sydney, NSW. At Home was curated by ex-Editor in Chief of Vogue Living, David Clark, and juxtaposed the Georgian interiors of Old Government House with pieces of contemporary Australian design spanning furniture, objects and textiles. Wille Weston was honoured to be included in the textiles display - two designs from the Ampilatwatja Collection, Sugarbag Dreaming in 'Desert Rose' and Singing Bush Medicine 'High Noon' were exhibited alongside the work of Australia's most creative boutique textile houses.

At the opening, Jess and Laetitia met Michelle, who has a longstanding interest and background in art history and textile design. Discussion around the beauty, provenance and cultural integrity of the designs led to Michelle proposing an article about the two designs for Garland magazine. We are very pleased to be able to share Michelle's piece here on The Landscape.

This article first appeared in Issue 6 of Garland magazine.

Rosie Ngwarraye Ross’ Sugarbag Dreaming in ‘Desert Rose' from the Ampilatwatja Collection.

Rosie Ngwarraye Ross’ Sugarbag Dreaming in ‘Desert Rose' from the Ampilatwatja Collection.

Return to the source: Women’s work thrives in Utopia

By Michelle Montgomery

Like most quests, mine began relatively simply; I had visited the contemporary Australian design exhibition At Home at Old Government House in Parramatta. While there, I fell in love with two whimsical textiles that spoke to me of the mapping of faraway places and I wanted to know more.

Before my story begins, I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people whose traditional lands I live on and offer my respect to the Elders past and present.

Textile company Willie Weston’s work sits harmoniously alongside Indigenous Australian stories of Jukurrpa (the creation or dream-time), which tell of the endless thread linking present, primordial past and future. This work with Indigenous art centres, creating furnishing fabrics for the domestic and commercial interiors markets, is the culmination of a series of disparate, yet inalienable moments in time.

Willie Weston x Koskela Indoor / Outdoor beanbag featuring Rosie Ngwarraye Ross’ Sugarbag Dreaming in ‘Desert Rose’. Photo: Koskela.

Willie Weston x Koskela Indoor / Outdoor beanbag featuring Rosie Ngwarraye Ross’ Sugarbag Dreaming in ‘Desert Rose’. Photo: Koskela.

Located 270 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs in Central Australia, Utopia encompasses a series of desert outstations spread over 10,000 square kilometres. The arrival of pastoralists in the 1920s displaced the Indigenous people from their country and ceremonial places and they gathered instead around the newcomer’s homesteads. The homesteads provided a source of work and food, but not much more. 

When legislation banning exploitative employment practices was introduced in the late 1960s, many Indigenous workers lost their jobs as a consequence. Both State and Federal Governments sponsored skills-based programs in the 1970s with the aim of bringing financial independence to the people of the desert.

The introduction of craft initiatives brought batik lessons to the women of Utopia, who enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to express their spiritual connection to country and tell their ancestral stories in a new way. The Alyawarr people’s belief is that the perpetuation of ceremonial practices ensures the ongoing health and vitality of their country. The women worked outdoors in their sacred meeting places, integrating batik into their communal rituals. 

Singing and dancing as they worked, they deftly transposed the coded visual language of ceremonial body painting and mark-making on sand to silk and cotton. The immediacy of the process and its ease of integration into the women’s rituals engendered their designs with a hybrid vivacity that was unique to Utopia—a point of difference that was troubling for the prevailing cultural hegemony and a stumbling block for those who attempted to market the women’s work.

Throughout the 1970-80s, the area’s art coordinators had only intermittent success marketing the textiles to urban gallerists. The art system viewed fabric as gendered and functional and therefore craft, and there were issues associated with its display and degradation. 

The introduction of a new technique and media as a conduit for the sharing of ancestral stories also prompted resistance. The work was not considered to be authentic because batik had been introduced to the community. This resistance to an evolution of means of production and representation effectively assigned Aboriginal culture to a pre-colonial past, the implication being that it must be held in temporal stasis and had little contemporary relevance in the systems that defined “art” and ”culture.” 

Colleen Ngwarraye Morton’s Singing Bush Medicine in ‘High Noon’ from the Ampilatwatja Collection.

Colleen Ngwarraye Morton’s Singing Bush Medicine in ‘High Noon’ from the Ampilatwatja Collection.

Although attempts to market the fabrics were for the most part in vain, it did nothing to inhibit the women. Their overriding imperative was ceremonial continuity, and they carried on regardless. This combination of a lack of market-led constraints and the fluid integration of batik into ceremonial practices led to the genesis of a rhythmic, figurative style that was undeniably imbued with the spirit of the land and people it sprang from. 

Batik opened up new creative pathways for many of the women. In the late 1980s, at the request of art advisor Rodney Gooch, who was under pressure to cover costs, they transitioned from fabric to the production of larger works in acrylic on canvas. The fluidity and ease of application of the acrylic paint lent itself readily to the gestural mark-making of the Utopia school. 

When the idiosyncratic style borne out of batik was combined with the use of media traditionally associated with “works of art”, the women suddenly began to receive recognition in fine art realms. Many of the original batik group went on to exhibit their paintings at biennales and in international touring exhibitions. Colleen Ngwarraye Morton, whose painting Singing Bush Medicine is part of Willie Weston’s Ampilatwatja (pronounced Um-bludder-watch) Collection, was one of them.

Singing Bush Medicine depicts a women’s ceremony celebrating Arreth, or “strong bush medicine.” More powerful than other medicines, Arreth works well on sores, cuts and scabies, or is taken as a drink to ease the symptoms of the flu. This knowledge was passed down Morton’s matrilineal line and is specific to her grandfather’s country.

The ceremony’s participants are painted up in ochre and they then sing to country and sing the medicine into existence. Singing to country offers respect to the ancestors, those who passed down the knowledge of medicinal plants, the land they grow on and the stories specific to that place. 

Caroline Hunter, Manager of the Indigenous-owned and operated art centre, Artists of Ampilatwatja, describes singing to country as “sound vibrations from singing in tune with the vibrational frequency of nature itself, like two of the same.” The women’s singing of seeds, plants and trees into existence is considered fundamental to the vibrational shaping of the universe, as well as a means of ensuring its continuity. It is in this way that people and place are one.

Rosie Ngwarraye Ross’ Sugarbag Dreaming in ‘Desert Rose' from the Ampilatwatja Collection.

Rosie Ngwarraye Ross’ Sugarbag Dreaming in ‘Desert Rose' from the Ampilatwatja Collection.

In addition to shared cultural beliefs and connection to country, Rosie Ngwarraye Ross, whose Sugarbag Dreaming also features in Willie Weston’s Ampilatwatja Collection, shares a familial link with the Utopia batik group. Her mother was one of its members and the jukurrpa stories of wildflowers and bush medicine that Ross brings to life with her paintings are part of her family’s spiritual lineage. Sugarbag references both the honey collected from native bees and the nectar from the flowers of the tarrkarr trees. Sugarbag Dreaming tells the story of Ross and her family’s food gathering ritual.

The peak and subsequent decline of the primary and secondary Indigenous art markets in 2007 saw the artists of Utopia return to cloth. Both Singing Bush Medicine and Sugarbag Dreaming were originally paintings on canvas, adapted by Willie Weston in consultation with the Artists of Ampilatwatja for use as textile designs. Colour palettes hold no currency in these Jukurrpa stories, enabling an aesthetic ease of movement between the realms of domestic and commercial interiors and the central Australian desert.

Once the artists have approved their work’s adaptation and colour ways, the designs are digitally printed on a range of indoor and outdoor fabrics to order. Artists are paid for every metre produced, enabling them to maintain an ongoing income. Drawing on their respective experience as Indigenous and contemporary art curators, Jessica Booth and Laetitia Prunetti market the artists in the manner of reputable art galleries, providing non-profit Indigenous-owned art centres with additional income for their artists.

Four decades on from the embrace of a seemingly innocuous craft by a small community in outback Australia, my story ends where it began, with women working together and the fabric of the dreamtime taking centre stage.

I would like to thank Jessica Booth and Laetitia Prunetti of Willie Weston, and Caroline Hunter and Matt Goff of Artists of Ampilatwatja for their help in bringing this story to fruition.

further reading

The art of the art advisor: Rodney Gooch and the invention of Aboriginal art at Utopia. Philip Batty. Art Monthly Australia #221 July 2009

Person and Place: Making Meaning of the Art of Australian Indigenous Women. Diane Bell. Feminist Studies Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 95-127.

Across the desert: Aboriginal batik from Central Australia. Judith Ryan. National Gallery of Victoria. 2008.

about the author

Michelle Montgomery recently completed a Bachelor of Art Theory at UNSW Art & Design. Combining image theory with her previous studies in art history and textile design, her passion is the history and theory of textiles and adornment. She is currently an Honours student at the University of Sydney and her research relates to the construction of identity and tribe via dress in a globalised world. Facebook: Fashion is History.