Reviews/Visual Art

A deeply engaging survey

2 August 2018

Review: Paji Honeychild Yankkarr, Daisy Andrews, Queenie McKenzie (Gara-Gara), Tjapartji Kanytjuri Bates, Tjingapa Davies and Pantjiti Mary McLean, “Bush Women: 25 Years On” ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

“Bush Women: 25 Years On” showcases works produced by six senior Aboriginal artists from WA’s Kimberley region and the Ngaanyatjarra Lands of the Western Desert: Paji Honeychild Yankkarr, Daisy Andrews, Queenie McKenzie (Gara-Gara), Tjapartji Kanytjuri Bates, Tjingapa Davies and Pantjiti Mary McLean.

Bush Women
Photo Rebecca Mansell

These works were first collectively exhibited in “Bush Women: Fresh Art from Remote WA”, a pivotal group show held at the Fremantle Arts Centre in 1994. In what was clearly a huge undertaking, the Centre’s exhibitions team has successfully tracked down and reunited nearly half the works that featured in the original show 25 years ago.

The paintings in “Bush Women” span very different styles, from the hypnotic, shimmering dots of Tjingapa Davies, to the thick, gestural brushstrokes of Paji Honeychild Yankkarr, and the hand-ground natural pigment powders made and used by Queenie McKenzie. These compelling works, produced by women who all started painting later in life, have clearly retained their vibrancy and significance.

Pantjiti Mary McLean’s sketches and paintings have been hung salon-style to produce an engaging and dynamic wall of works. Her idyllic campsite scenes project a sense of joyous energy, with expressive human figures crowding amongst bountiful niri niri (bush tucker).

Pantjiti Mary McLean, Yultukunpa tjikini (drinking honey Grevillea) (detail), 1990, felt pen on paper, 60 x 84cm, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
Pantjiti Mary McLean, ‘Yultukunpa tjikini’ (drinking honey Grevillea) (detail), 1990, felt pen on paper, 60 x 84cm, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

As if to emphasise the distinct aesthetic approaches of each artist in “Bush Women”, McLean’s works strongly contrast against the art of Queenie McKenzie found across the room. A traditional law woman and community activist, McKenzie was forced to depict her ancestral lands from a distance, after all Aboriginal people were denied entry to a station built on the site. Her stylised topographies are full of personal symbolism, with minimalist landmarks sitting on flat monochromatic fields. McKenzie’s Horse Creek Massacre (1880s), a screen print accompanied by a didactic panel of stories from local oral histories, is particularly haunting.

The comprehensive wall labels throughout “Bush Women” provide fascinating biographical information about the artists, many of whom spent their childhoods living traditional nomadic lifestyles. Detailing the language, family heritage and birth place of each artist, these texts also share the often painful details of the artists’ first interactions with Kartiya (Europeans) and the subsequent dramatic upheaval of their lifestyles and landscapes.

The exhibition labels, additionally, provide a helpful amount of supplementary information to enhance our understanding of the painted imagery. Depending on the painting, the accompanying wall text outlines the lessons and events of the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming), the cultural knowledge, or the characteristics of each artist’s Country that they have chosen to represent. The provenance of some paintings is also explored, from the collectors and staff who purchased the works after the original exhibition, to the physical journeys of the paintings (one work travelled from Fitzroy Crossing to Broome to Sydney to Perth).

The restaging of “Bush Women”, curated by Erin Coates (the Centre’s special projects curator) and John Kean (original curator of the 1994 exhibition), reaffirms the ongoing significance of these diverse paintings and the stories they share. It feels like a privilege to experience these works reassembled in such a deeply engaging survey show.

“Bush Women: 25 Years On” runs until 8 September 2018.

Pictured top: All works by Queenie McKenzie (Gara-Gara), “Horse Creek Massacre (1880s)”, 1998, screenprint on paper, 91 x 108cm, “Garloomboomy, Ngamany the Borders of Gija Country”, ochre on canvas, 96 x 120cm, “Jesus, Mary & Joseph”, 1998, 46 x 61cm, “Barramundi”, ochre and bush gum on board, 45 x 56cm, “Ninteramangy (Learning in All)”, 1995, 80 x 120cm. Photo: Rebecca Mansell.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Jenny Scott

Jenny Scott received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (First Class Honours) from the University of Western Australia, and has spent the past ten years working and volunteering in the arts sector on Whadjuk Noongar boodja. She has fond memories of the dangerous thrill of the playground roundabout.

Past Articles

  • A 20 year wait for a queer take

    Focusing on the perspectives of queer West Australian artists, this year’s ‘HERE&NOW’ exhibition at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery is both stylish and thought-provoking says Jenny Scott.

  • An exuberant return

    As Djuki Mala returned to tour WA this month we are re-posting Jenny Scott’s review of their 2018 performance at Fringe World.

Read Next

  • Kiki Saito and Matthew Lehmann in Nils Christe's Before Nightfall. Photo by Bradbury Photography copy Two West Australian ballet dancers on stage - a woman is perched on one pointe, her other leg extended upwards in a split. She arches back, supported by a male dancer. Hitting high notes at 70

    Hitting high notes at 70

    25 June 2022

    Traversing a range of human emotion, West Australian Ballet’s latest triple bill is an evening of beautifully performed contemporary dance, reports Kim Balfour.

    Reading time • 6 minutesDance
  • Cabaret festival. A singer wearing a fur hat is on stage with a pianist, guitarist and drummer. We can see the dress circle seats of the theatre in the background lit in a greenish light. Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    23 June 2022

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

    Reading time • 6 minutesCabaret
  • A semi circle of 8 singers, with one standing in the centre, facing an audience. They are in a large hall and there are cnadles, chairs and pot plants decorating the floor around them. Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    20 June 2022

    Armchair poets become legends in their own lunchtimes in Vanguard Consort’s imaginative Saturday Night Poetry, writes Claire Coleman.

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic

Leave a comment

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio