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Balgo paintings - page 6"Tali, Tjurrnu, Waniri": Paintings by Three Senior Women from the Great Sandy Desert


The following essay was written by Samantha Togni, Director Warlayirti Artists on the occasion of our first online exhibition entitled "Tali, tjurrnu and waniri" (sandhill, soakwater and rockhole). The show presented work painted in 2002 by three senior women from Balgo Hills (Wirrimanu).

Tali, tjurrnu and waniri (sandhill, soakwater and rockhole) presents recent works by three senior women from Warlayirti Artists in Balgo. Lucy Loomoo, Nancy Naninurra and Kathleen Paddoon are all in their sixties and have been painting regularly for more than a decade, being key figures in the early women's art movement at Balgo which began in the early 1980s. This exhibition is the first time that works by these three women have been given such prominence. Therefore, it is an exciting event and an important recognition of these senior women artists.

Lucy Loomoo

Lucy Loomoo painting


Lucy Loomoo painting


Lucy Loomoo painting


Nancy Naninurra


Nancy Naninurra painting



Nancy Naninurra painting


Nancy Naninurra painting


Kathleen Paddoon


Kathleen Paddoon painting



Kathleen Paddoon painting


Kathleen Paddoon painting


As the title of the exhibition suggests sandhills, soakwaters and rockholes feature strongly in the work of these artists who paint their traditional country and Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) stories of the Great Sandy Desert country south of Balgo community.

The works exhibited convey an intensity of colour and the compositions carry a boldness of originality. Lucy and Kathleen combine vibrant colors while Nancy often uses a palette of predominately white tones. These colours reflect the country as the plants begin flowering in the late dry season and then explode into colour with the first rains of summer. The women are not restricted by the format upon which they paint, instead they respond to the canvas as if it is an extension of their country.

All three women were born in their traditional country and spent their formative years travelling with their respective family groups and living off the country. Today Kathleen and Nancy live in Kururrungku (Billiluna) and Lucy lives in Wirrimanu (Balgo). These women, like many of the artists represented by Warlayirti Artists, do not live in their traditional country as a consequence of missionary times.

Balgo originated as a Catholic mission in the 1930s and desert people of many language groups were brought to the mission from a vast area to the south and west of the current community. Children were usually raised in the mission dormitory and separated from their parents. The adults worked on the mission or on the surrounding cattle stations and mines. In the 1970s, with the introduction of the policy of self-determination, Balgo became an Aboriginal community administered by an Aboriginal controlled council.

Lucy, Nancy and Kathleen share common histories despite the fact that they come from different countries and languages groups. Through their paintings the women maintain a connectedness to land and culture and their work provides a means of passing on important knowledge to the younger generations.

Intimate knowledge of the country and particularly knowledge of the water holes, in the desert country is essential for survival, not only for the water source but also because of the surrounding abundance of bush fruits and seeds that are sustained by the water source. This knowledge of rockholes and soakwaters is evident in the works by Lucy, Nancy and Kathleen. Their paintings include delicious bush fruits such as gooseberries, blackberries, apples and raisins that women regularly collect in coolamons (carved wooden bowls).

Entwined in this detailed knowledge of country for sustenance, is the knowledge of the Tjukurrpa, or Dreaming, when ancestral beings travelled through the country creating the landforms and life-giving elements. Each painting of country contains cultural meaning informed by the Tjukurrpa.

Nancy's skin name is Napanangka and she regularly paints the Mina Mina Dreaming story which is an important women's story. The Minna Minna tjurrnu (soakwater) lies in the Great Sandy Desert far to the south of Balgo and the women of the Nungurrayi and Napanangka skin groups dance for this country. In the Balgo area the Mina Mina is a major song cycle used by women for initiating boys . The Mina Mina story tells of the Mungamunga Ancestral Women who travel the Tjukurrpa (Dreamtime) landscape. These women used to act like men, hunting with boomerang for kangaroo until one old man with magical powers stopped the boomerang from working when the women tried to use it. From this time on the women no longer hunted with spear and boomerang and these tasks were taken on by the men .

Kathleen is also a Napanangka and regularly paints the Nakarra Nakarra song cycle, the Seven Sister's Dreaming. Kathleen's mother was closely associated with the country of the Nakarra Nakarra Dreaming Track. The Nakarra Nakarra is the story of seven sisters who travel through the ancestral landscape and is an important ceremonial song cycle for many of the women in the Kutjungka region.

The Nakarra Nakarra song cycle follows the flight of the women from their 'wrong skin' lovers; their ceremonial role in the initiations for boys and other rituals; their use of tools to procure and process food; their being swallowed, together with men, by a snake; their stealing of sacred objects; and their transformation into sacred sites.

Nungurrayi is Lucy's skin name and the waniri (rockholes) and tali (sandhills) are a dominant feature in her paintings. Lucy has intimate knowledge of the many rockholes and soakwaters in her traditional country and the Tjukurrpa stories that created these features mostly through fire.

All three women approach the canvas confidently, assured by their strong knowledge of country and Law. Their works convey the colours, life and vitality of the desert and each artist has developed her own way of representing this country and its spirituality. These three women carry the responsibility to pass on their knowledge and unique life experiences to their children and grandchildren. Painting, as a visual language, is an important medium through which this can be done. The artists are in no doubt about the absolute connectedness between their paintings and their country and their culture.

Tali, tjurrnu and waniri brings together an impressive body of work which celebrates the knowledge, ability and love for country shared by these three amazing senior women from the Great Sandy Desert.

For more information about the artists, see the biographical notes on:


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