Reviews/Visual Art

Familiar colours with just a few surprises

27 March 2023

Bringing the vibrancy and variety of First Nations art from the remote Ngaanyatjarra Lands to Perth, Really One Story is bound to be a crowd pleaser says Zali Morgan. But she’d like to see more work that challenges our expectations of Aboriginal art.

Really One Story: Art from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, Minyma Kutjara Arts Project, Papulankutja Artists, Tjarlirli Art, Warakurna Artists, Tjanpi Desert Weavers and Maruku Arts
FORM Gallery

Really One Story: Art from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands dips our toes into the bright, bold and beautiful contemporary work that is being produced by our First Nations art centres in the remote far-east of Western Australia.

A survey exhibition of work by senior, mid-career and emerging artists from Minyma Kutjara Arts Project, Papulankutja Artists, Tjarlirli Art, Warakurna Artists, Tjanpi Desert Weavers and Maruku Arts, Really One Story celebrates the continuous connection of Country, stories and art of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands’ six arts centres and artists. The exhibition is curated by FORM’s strategic curatorial lead Andrew Nicholls in collaboration with each of the six centres.

The Ngaanyatjarra Lands cover some 250, 000 square kilometres, so it’s not surprising that the exhibition doesn’t disappoint in scale. A renovated train shed, FORM Gallery’s minimal wall spaces have been packed to the brim. The range of contemporary media is impressive, including paintings, fibre sculpture, punu (wooden objects) and video.

I was sceptical, at first, about the title Really One Story. which I feared could create the misconception that these artists from Ngaanyatjarra, Yankunytjatjara, and Pitjantjatjara regions all have the same story. So it was a relief to hear that the name was proposed by Tjarlirli artist Faith Butler, and chosen collaboratively by all the art centres.

Tjanpi Desert Weavers, ‘Kukaputju – The Hunter’ (still), stop-motion animated film. Image courtesy of Tjanpi Desert Weavers and NPYWC

Tjanpi Desert Weavers (tjanpi meaning “wild grass” in Pitjantjatjara language) represents over 400 Aṉangu/Yarnangu women artists from 26 remote communities on the vast NPY lands. With a large variety of weaving, including large scale sculptural bowls of tightly woven natural coloured raffia, bright and bold small bowls and delightfully detailed woven animal sculptures, these works have broad appeal.

But it’s Tjanpi’s award-winning, stop-motion animation Kukaputju – The Hunter (2021) that is the highlight.

Directed by Pitjantjatjara woman Yanyangkari Roma Butler and Jonathan Daw, Kukaputju – The Hunter tells an entertaining but important story about Butler, and the huge problem of feral cats within the Ngaanyatjarra Lands. Populated by Tjanpi’s intricate and charismatic woven animals, people and plants, the film is narrated by Butler, in Pitjantjatjara language.

Though the issue of feral cats is serious, Butler relates it in a fun and engaging manner, matched by the whimsical and delicate animation. From the sweat falling down a character’s face, to the colours of the coals when they’re cooking, the detail in this work is impeccable – it’s a must-see.

Katjarra Butler, ‘Korrmankuntja’, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 122 cm. Image courtesy of Tjarlirli Art

The figurative contemporary acrylic paintings of Minyma Kutjara Arts Project artists Noreen Parker and Cryil Watson also stand out. Parker’s work Maralinga (2022, pictured top) tells the heart-breaking story of her uncle, who went bush during the time of the British Nuclear testing and never returned home. In contrast, Watson’s work Motorcar Tjukurpa (2022) speaks to his love for Holdens and fast cool cars. Both works push the boundaries of what audiences expect from remote communities through the use of their figurative styles and in-depth depictions. It’s refreshing to see works displayed that challenge perceptions of what Aboriginal art can be – we need more!

Really One Story: Art from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands also features big name artists, such as Katjarra Butler from Tjarlirli Art and Angilyiya Mitchell from Papulankutja Artists, whose works both feature in State Art Collection at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Depicting the significant Tjukurrpa (dreaming) story, the vibrant shades of purple, mauve and pink of Mitchell’s acrylic painting, Kungkarrangkalpa (Seven Sisters) (2022), call you from across the room, demanding your attention.

Butler’s acrylic painting, Korrmankuntja (2022), by comparison, is portrayed in muted tones of grey, green and oranges, instead of her trademark bright hues. Though compelling, it feels like this work needs more space than this cluttered exhibition allows.

The size and scale of Really One Story: Art from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands is impressive, but with art packed into every corner of the space, it appears that the focus is selling the works for the artists, rather than considering how best to present the work in the space. It seems as though FORM has compiled an ethnographic display rather than selecting works that redefine our perceptions of “Aboriginal art”.

Capturing the vibrant variety of art across a vast section of WA, Really One Story: Art from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands is worth a visit. But when you do, you might ponder the question, who is this exhibition for?

Really One Story: Art from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands is showing at FORM Gallery until 7 May 2023.

Pictured top: Noreen Parker, ‘Maralinga’, 2022, Acrylic on canvas 76 x 56 cm. Image courtesy of Minyma Kutjara Arts Project

Zali Morgan is currently employed by the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

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Author —
Zali Morgan

Zali Morgan is a Wilman, Ballardong, Whadjuk Noongar woman. Currently working at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the emerging writer has a background in fine art and dance, but has a passion for all things creative. You can find Zali swinging around on the monkey bars, reminiscing about her childhood grip strength.

Past Articles

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    Cataloguing the beauty of Murujuga’s ancient landscape and the damage inflicted on this Country by industrial behemoths, this exhibition is a searing critique of those corporations and the governments that support them, writes Zali Morgan.

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    Marrugeku’s Burrbgaja Yalirra 2 is a triple bill of dance that’s a must-see… if you can get a ticket, writes Zali Morgan.

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