Outstanding new artwork on display

Published 27 October 2008

Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples at Southern Cross University will unveil a major new art acquisition by leading Indigenous artist, Janet Long Nakamarra, at the Stories and Songs of the People event this Friday, October 31.

Damper Seed Dreaming, a large acrylic on canvas work, tells the long-ago Spinifex Pigeon (Ngarntipi) creation story. “The painting depicts many aspects of the sacred journey,” Janet said.

A Warlpiri woman, Janet was born in 1960 in the Tanami Desert in Central Australia, in the land of her people, Warntaparri, where she lived a traditional life with her family. As a young girl, her aunts May and Molly Napurulla showed her how to paint the traditional designs of her Warntaparri Dreaming.

In 1989, when the local store at Willowra began supplying canvas and paints to the local Aboriginal artists, Janet began to paint her designs and dreamings on small boards. Later, her brother, Malcolm Jagamarra, saw her taking a serious interest in painting and taught her how to use the medium of acrylics on canvas.

“I saw art as a way of teaching people about my culture and sharing that culture with the world,” Janet said.

Today, Janet Long Nakamarra’s work is renowned the world over. She has exhibited from China and Germany to Italy and the USA, as well as all over Australia, and has major collections held in the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Embassy in New York, the Berndt Museum of Anthropology at the University of Western Australia, and at Art Mob in Hobart, Tasmania.

Janet has a deep-rooted understanding and knowledge of the traditional beliefs and practices of her people. Along with her ability as a linguist (she trained as a teacher linguist and worked as a literacy teacher at Willowra School), Janet has the unique talent and capability of translating the symbols, icons and representational designs found within her paintings.

The stories that she shares through the detail of her artwork are founded in the cultural identity and strength of the Warlpiri people. This enables her to impart a deep understanding of her culture through decoding the meaning in her artwork in a manner that is achieved by few others.

For example, in Damper Seed Dreaming, the painting purchased by Gnibi, Janet brings one of the great creation stories of her people to life.

“In this painting the Spinifex Pigeon (Ngarntipi) creation story is being told by Ngarntipi as he is painting the design and looking at his reflection in the rock hole (represented by the circle in the middle of the painting),” Janet said.

“The two large lines moving across the painting represent ancestral lines. The painting tells how, as he travelled north and sang the creation into being, Ngarntipi called to the other pigeons to tell them that the seeds were ready for harvesting.

“All the pigeons from near and far heard him and came to collect the seeds with him, flapping their wings and gathering the seeds from underneath the spinifex. They left the seeds on the flat termite mounds (represented by the brown circles; the white dots are the seeds).

“The women gathered the seeds and put them in their coolamons to take home. Later they ground the seed and made it into damper cakes and bread. You can see these women sitting in their circles (the black U-shapes) with their digging sticks and coolamons right next to the spinifex.

“The brown oval circles with the white dots are the grinding stones, while the cakes are the golden yellow ovals. Nearby you can also see the white grubs that live in the ground under the spinifex. They soften the roots after the rains come, which makes it easier to harvest plants.

“You can also see the body designs that Ngarntipi painted on himself, as well as his dancing sticks, that are powerful and sacred in their own right.

“After the creation was finished, Ngarntipi returned to his home at Janjipi and lived happily with his family to the end of his days. The people remember his creation through the stories, songs, dance and artwork that commemorate his travels.”

You can see the Damper Seed Dreaming painting, and other works by Indigenous artists including works by Bundjalung artist Digby Moran, at the Stories and Songs of the People art exhibition, being held from 2pm-4.30pm, at Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples (H block), Southern Cross University Lismore campus, this Friday, October 31.

The art exhibition forms part of a larger event, featuring a not-to-be-missed intimate evening of musical entertainment and rich cultural history in the evening at the Whitebrook Theatre.

This unique public concert featuring traditional and contemporary performances will showcase a wonderful mix of Native American and Indigenous Australian music, storytelling, poetry and dance.

The Indigenous art show, and a forum looking at the cultural aspects of ‘Lore and Law’ are being held as a prelude to the concert, with guest speakers including Native American Elder, Julia BrownWolf.

The program of events for Stories and Songs of the People, being held in the Whitebrook Theatre (Y block) at the Lismore campus, this Friday, October 31:

11am: Opening ceremony and welcome.
12pm: Free public forum - ‘Cultural Aspects of Lore and Law’ (Dr. Loretta Kelly); ‘Natural Justice’ (Shelley Bielefeld).
1pm: Free open forum and panel discussion (with Julia BrownWolf).
2pm-4.30pm: Aboriginal art exhibition (free admission), at Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples (H block), with the unveiling of a new artwork by acclaimed Indigenous artist Janet Long Nakamarra. Featured artist: Digby Moran (Northern Rivers Bundjalung).
7pm-9pm: Stories and Songs of the People public concert (in the Whitebrook Theatre).

Tickets for the concert are adults $20, concession/child $15, children under 12 free. Tickets are available through Gnibi(D block)on the SCU Lismore campus, from Norpa at www.norpa.org.au or at the door on the night.

For more information phone 6620 3955. To see the full program for the day’s events, and a map of the Lismore campus, visit www.storiesandsongs.org

Photo: Janet Long Nakamarra: Damper Seed Dreaming, acrylic paint on canvas; tells the Spinifex Pigeon creation story. Skin Group - Nakamarra, Jupurrurla, Napurrurla, Jakamarra; Place – Pirliwarnawarna/Janjipi.

Media contact: Zoe Satherley Southern Cross University media officer, 6620 3144, 0439 132 095.