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