This exhibition of unique works documents a new art movement emerging from the Western Desert community of Warakurna.
by Peter Thorley, Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program, The Museum magazine, Issue two September 2012–February 2013
Warakurna: All the Stories Got into our Minds and Eyes is an exhibition featuring works from the Warakurna Artists art centre that charts the history of the Ngaanyatjarra lands. Western Desert artists across central Australia are well known for Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) paintings, which tell the stories of creation through symbols and dots. Produced over the last two years, the paintings featured in this exhibition use a figurative style to recreate scenes of everyday life and people, allowing a wide range of stories to be told, both historical and contemporary.
Warakurna lies near the meeting of the borders of Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia, some 300 kilometres west of Uluru. The Warakurna community has a long history of artistic expression and comprises about 180, mostly Ngaanyatjarra, people who refer to themselves as Yarnangu. Warakurna Artists is a thriving art centre and the heart and soul of the community.
Donated to the Museum by Wayne and Vicki McGeoch, the Warakurna paintings are the creative vision of a group of artists including Eunice Yunurupa Porter, Judith Yinyika Chambers, Dianne Ungukalpi Golding, Jean Inyalanka Burke and Dorcas Tinamayi Bennett. These artists are not just making art, they are recounting incidents and remembering people that have impacted heavily on their lives, including the coming of explorers, prospectors and missionaries, the building of roads, missile testing, the return to their homeland and the setting up of their own community.
The emergence of the history painting movement at Warakurna coincides with broader changes taking place in the Western Desert – the last representatives of a generation to have grown up living a fully traditional life are passing on. There is a growing desire for Yarnangu to remember the people who left an impression on their lives and to pass this knowledge on to their children.
A new kind of history is being forged in the Western Desert. Collectively the works in this exhibition reflect Warakurna people's desire to tell their own story in their own way. Yarnangu are claiming their heritage and art is playing an important role in this.
Warakurna: All the Stories Got into our Minds and Eyes is on display in the First Australians Focus Gallery from 7 December 2012 to 3 November 2013.