Noŋgirrŋa Marawili | Daughter of the Lightning Snake

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Baratjala

2018, natural pigments and synthetic polymer paint on paper, 58 × 52cm



Daughter of the Lightning Snake represents a partnership between Maitland Regional Art Gallery, the Hassall Milson Collection and Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre. The work in this exhibition is on loan from the Hassall Milson Collection Warrang/Sydney with curatorial assistance from Robert Hirschmann. MRAG would also like to recognise the support of our Publication Sponsor, the Gordon Darling Foundation.


Noŋgirrŋa Marawili


MAITLAND REGIONAL ART GALLERY ACKNOWLEDGES THE WONNARUA PEOPLE, THE TRADITIONAL CUSTODIANS AND OWNERS OF THE LAND. WE ACKNOWLEDGE THE UNBROKEN CONNECTION TO COUNTRY, CULTURE AND COMMUNITY AND WE EXTEND THIS RESPECT TO ALL ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE WHO VISIT AND ENGAGE WITH THE GALLERY. Members of Aboriginal communities are advised that this publication contains the names of people who have passed away.

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NOŊGIRRŊA MARAWILI



The daughter of a warrior Her call is from the inside, guiding A steady determined hand, Boldly shaping from the outside. Weaving the earth elements together Strong and proud Raw and unfinished in its completeness, Her inspiration and power. Telling stories of this land Changing surfaces Still held true by ancestral law, From the outside. Painting the land Using the land She celebrates her way of life, From before, and today, in her own way. The spear of the sky The flashes of light And rumble of thunder, Tells her the lightning snake is near. While the rock stands strong Against the wild tide And the water crashes over and around, But never through. The flame of her being burning bright Shifting shape, it commands us to come near Transfixed and mesmerised, Expressing her way, her revolution, her life.

YIRRMAL

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Hailing from the Rirratjingu clan group in the remote north-east Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala, Yirrmal is a musician and performer who retells and performs stories as old as time with a fresh, inspired and contemporary reflection.




Baratjala

2020, natural pigments and recycled print toner on bark, 230 × 115cm

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Forew ringing the work of renowned artists to our community is an important part of what we do at Maitland Regional Art Gallery. We are honoured to have the work of Noŋgirrŋa Marawili here on Wonnarua Country and for this we thank the generosity of Geoffrey Hassall and Virginia Milson whose collection continues to delight regional audiences through their commitment to sharing their private collection with public museums. Noŋgirrŋa Marawili is regarded as one of the most important artists in Australia today. Working from the extraordinary landscape of her home in Yirrkala, north-eastern Arnhem Land,

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Marawili captures the atmospheric forces of water, wind and ocean as a celebration of Country and culture. It is thrilling to bring the essence of this distant place here to Maitland.

In developing this exhibition, we had the opportunity to create new connections with people in the top end of this vast country and we thank our colleagues at the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre for their generosity and insight. We also acknowledge the curatorial assistance of Robert Hirschmann who worked in collaboration with MRAG’s Senior Curator Kim Blunt to coordinate this extraordinary project for Maitland.

NOŊGIRRŊA MARAWILI


word Accompaning the essay written by Will Stubbs, this publication includes the insight and knowledge of Cara Pinchbeck, Senior Curator Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and we thank her for the generous inclusion of her words throughout.

Gerry Bobsien

GALLERY DIRECTOR

Larrakitj - Djapu Design

2020, natural pigments and recycled print toner on stringybark hollow log, 280 × 28cm

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No


oŋe understand the ‘arrow of time’ as a fixed truth which underpins our modern lives. The past moves through the present to the future and nothing can reverse this. However Einstein disagrees. He wrote “People like us who believe in physics know that the

distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

An image taken by Donald Thomson in 1935 shows a Yolŋu warrior named Mundukuḻ standing smiling into the camera on a remote beach on the shores of Blue Mud Bay.

NOŊGIRRŊA MARAWILI

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gir In other images he is pictured with his large family. He is a tall strong, lean, man with wide shoulders carrying a bundle of finely made spears and wearing a bark loincloth. He is at home here. To this day there is no road or permanent man-made structure within 25 kilometres of this spot. And if you discount the few tiny scattered homeland centres in the near radius the closest town that fits such a description in having paved roads and mains power is 150 kilometres distant.

Noŋgirrŋa was not born at this time but came shortly afterwards.

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Untitled

2015, synthetic polymer paint on stringybark hollow log, 223 × 25cm


rrMundukuḻ a Maḏarrpa warrior (c.1890—1950) was a famed leader/warrior with uncountable wives of the Marrakulu, Dhuḏi Djapu and Gälpu clans. Uncountable because the only record of births, deaths and marriages which dates from this era is the Mission ‘Stud Book’ a yellowed typewritten collation of some earlier document with annotations of further births and deaths in handwritten biro and pencil. Yirrkala Mission was being established far away as this photograph was being taken. But Mundukuḻ does not appear in the record. He never submitted to the lure of addictive tobacco, tea,

flour and sugar which was God’s reward for surrendering a Yolŋu life. Someone at a later date has entered Noŋgirrŋa as being born in 1939. This was an estimation made some time in her teens when she came to Yirrkala. Noŋgirrŋa was a child of Buḻuŋguwuy, one of the four Gälpu wives. Life was a bountiful but disciplined subsistence amongst a working family group of closely related mothers, brothers and sisters. This was over fifty people! She was born on the beach at Darrpirra, north of Cape Shield on the ocean side. But they were ‘wakir’ — camping/moving around.

DAUGHTER OF THE LIGHTNING SNAKE

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ŋa They went to Yilpara. They went to Djarrakpi. But their special place was Guwaŋarripa (Woodah Island). They were a fleet of canoes travelling all the way to Groote Island and back and forth from the mainland. They lived in this rich place surrounded by coral reefs. When they wanted to catch the wind they would break off the branch of a tree and use that as the sail. Mums, babies, dogs and kids being paddled by their husbands, brothers and fathers through tropical waters full of huge reptiles, mammals, fish, turtles and sharks. One day she was at Bariŋura when the great leader Mawunbuy was lost in a canoe capsized by a whale or a

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a Baratjala

2018, natural pigments and synthetic polymer paint on paper, 58 × 52cm

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Ma Japanese submarine, whichever witness you believe.

Noŋgirrŋa went to Yirrkala with her father’s sisters however she did not go to school as she was too scared. Her father died on Warrpirrimatji Island near Groote. Later they carried his bones to Baykultji in the far west of Blue Mud Bay to stand in a ḻarrakitj (hollow memorial pole). This is just inland from where Thomson photographed him fifteen years before. Djutjadjutja Munuŋgurr came to Yirrkala from Waṉḏawuy. He helped build the airstrip for the army during the war. Noŋgirrŋa was in her early teens.

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They gave her to him. Three of her children were born in ward two of the newly built Yirrkala hospital. This is now gallery two of the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre where adjacent to the where she has painted most of these works. The lightning she paints is spat across the sky by the Yirritja serpent Mundukuḻ who towers above the monsoonal cloud mass communicating with similar beings to the south and east. He imprecates curses and spells

NOŊGIRRŊA MARAWILI


ar-

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rw aw would go on to dominate the contemporary art scene?

drawn from the epic song poetry of Yolŋu law. This speech is in a grammar unknown to English speakers. It is in a simultaneous past/present/future continuum. He spat/is spitting/will spit his language of light, heat and power.

How can we know what was in Mundukuḻ’s mind when that glass plate was exposed by the action of the shutter opening in a flash? What can we imagine Thomson or Mundukuḻ would make of the fact that his then unborn daughter

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That her husband, Djutjadjutja in 1997 and two of her daughters Rerrkirrwaŋa in 2009 and Marrnyula in 2020 would win the NATSIAA prize for best bark painting. That she would win the same award twice in 2015 and 2019. That her retrospective ‘From My Heart and Mind’ at the AGNSW in 2018-2019 curated by Cara Pinchbeck would win national critical praise. That she would begin to apply the toner from discarded magenta print cartridges to her bark in line with the Found Movement and that this genre of work would lead to massive popular and critical

NOŊGIRRŊA MARAWILI


wili acclaim in shows at Tarnanthi 2019 and the 22nd Biennale of Sydney in 2020 as well as successive sold out shows at Alcaston Gallery. And what of the woman who is the thread between these two realities? What has she experienced? How has she followed the arrow of this time? To spend time with her is to understand how strong a human can be and how much resource is within all of us. If all the cosy comforting reference points of

reality are snatched away by history there is still a centre which can be relied upon. A certainty and a confidence that what is past is still present and will be again. She has lived her life in the past/ present/future as a sovereign being and the daughter of the Lightning Snake.

Will Stubbs

DAUGHTER OF THE LIGHTNING SNAKE

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NOŊGIRRŊA MARAWILI


Baniyala Story

2008, ed. 15/30, soft-ground etching on paper, 25 × 50cm

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he following pages include extracts from the catalogue essay authored by Cara Pinchbeck, Senior Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Pinchbeck’s essay in ‘Noŋgirrŋa Marawili: From My Heart and Mind’ is meticulously researched with great respect and understanding of the artist. These extracts provide a taste of the depth of Pinchbeck’s essay, offering a considered insight into Marawili’s life and her unique approach to artmaking through culture and country.

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Baratjala

2018, natural pigments with synthetic binder on bark, 177 × 97cm (detail page 26)


Baratjala

2018, natural earth pigments with synthetic binder on bark, 164 × 91cm (detail page 9)

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Noŋgirrŋa Marawili paints with courage and conviction. Her commanding works are imbued with an immense knowledge of country rendered with passion. Hers is not an art of precision and exactitude, but one of verve and vigour. Noŋgirrŋa is interested in the atmospheric effects created as country is brought to life through the movement of wind, water or unseen forces. She is not simply documenting sites of importance, she is capturing the dynamism of a living landscape, as the sentience of country collides with her lived experience.1 CARA PINCHBECK

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1

Cara Pinchbeck, Noŋgirrŋa Marawili: From My Heart and Mind, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2018



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Baratjala

2014, natural pigments on board, 242 × 121cm (detail page 35)

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Noŋgirrŋa has not arrived at this point of innovation by accident. She has followed a careful trajectory over the course of her career, cautiously navigating inherited traditions and accepted modes of representation to arrive at her singular vision, one which challenges conventions and provokes consideration. Like the rock at Baratjala, and its enduring presence, Noŋgirrŋa’s own life has been one of resilience in the face of change, but as she stated at her first solo exhibition, ‘I am still here.’ Like Noŋgirrŋa herself, her works are forcefields – energised, electrified and infused with a knowledge and vision of country that comes from the ‘heart and mind’.2 CARA PINCHBECK

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2

Cara Pinchbeck, Noŋgirrŋa Marawili: From My Heart and Mind, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2018



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Baratjula VI

2015, natural pigments on board, 242 × 121cm (detail page 32)


Baratjula I

2015, natural pigments on board, 242 × 121cm (detail page 38)

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Bad Dog

2015, natural pigments and synthetic fixative on board, 121 × 116cm

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Untitled

2015, natural pigments and fixative on board, 121 × 119cm


Baratjula II

2015, natural pigments on board, 242 × 121cm (detail page 42)

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Lightning

2017, natural pigments and fixitive on bark, 211 × 78cm (detail page 39)

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Baratjula

2014, natural pigments on board, 242 × 121cm (detail page 44)

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Baratjula IV

2015, natural pigments on board, 242 × 121cm (detail page 31)


Baratjala

2019, natural pigments with synthetic binder on board, 242 × 191cm (detail page 49)

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I PAINT WATER DESIGNS – THE WATER AS ITS SPLASHES ONTO THE ROCKS AT HIGH TIDE… THE PAINTING THAT I DO IS NOT SACRED. I CAN’T STEAL MY FATHER’S [SACRED MADARRPA] PAINTINGS. I JUST DO MY OWN DESIGNS FROM THE OUTSIDE. WATER. ROCK. ROCKS WHICH STAND STRONG, AND THE WAVES WHICH RUN AND CRASH UPON THE ROCK. THE SEA SPRAY. THIS IS THE PAINTING I DO… BUT I KNOW THE SACRED DESIGNS.3 Noŋgirrŋa does not want to infringe cultural protocols so she distances her painting from the realm of the sacred and places it firmly in the secular. However, she is acutely aware that her elders will consider the work and make their own determination as to its appropriateness. CARA PINCHBECK

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3

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili quoted in Tina Baum, exhibition catalogue, Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2017.


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Untitled

2019, natural pigments on bark, 70 × 49cm


Untitled

2019, natural pigments on bark, 86 × 35cm

Untitled

2019, natural pigments on bark, 82 × 49cm

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Untitled

2019, synthetic polymer paint on paper, 77 × 58cm


Larrakitj — Djapu Design

2019, natural pigments with synthetic binder on stringybark hollow log, 262 × 30cm

Larrakitj — Djapu Design

2019, natural pigments with synthetic binder on stringybark hollow log, 262 × 30cm

Larrakitj — Djapu Design

2019, natural pigments with synthetic binder on stringybark hollow log, 262 × 30cm

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Djapu Design

2019, natural pigments and fixative on paper, 76 × 56cm each panel


Larrakitj — Djapu Design

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2019, natural pigments with synthetic binder on stringybark hollow log, 252 × 25cm

Larrakitj — Djapu Design

2019, natural pigments with synthetic binder on stringybark hollow log, 275 × 25cm


Djapu Design

2019, natural pigments on bark, 161 × 75cm (detail page 60)

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Djapu

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2020, natural pigments and recycled print toner on board, 242 × 121cm (detail page 59 and back cover)




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS First published in 2022 by Maitland Regional Art Gallery, PO Box 220, Maitland NSW, 2320, to accompany the exhibition Noŋgirrŋa Marawili: Daughter of the Lightning Snake Exhibition dates: 19 February — 14 August 2022 Gallery Director: Gerry Bobsien Exhibition Curators: Robert Hirschmann, Kim Blunt Gallery Coordinator: Celeste Aldahn Exhibition Officer: Linden Pomaré Foreword: Gerry Bobsien Poem: Yirrmal Essay: Will Stubbs Extracts reproduced with permission from ‘Noŋgirrŋa Marawili: From My Heart and Mind’ by Cara Pinchbeck in Noŋgirrŋa Marawili: From My Heart and Mind, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2018. Editing: Gerry Bobsien, Cheryl Farrell, Kim Blunt, Celeste Aldahn, Linden Pomaré, Anne McLaughlin Graphic Design: Clare Hodgins Artwork photography: Adrian Gebers Studio portraits: Dave Wickens care of Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre © Maitland Regional Art Gallery | All images copyright of the artist ISBN: 978-0-6487348-5-7 Catalogue proudly printed in Australia by Jennings Print Group. Maitland Regional Art Gallery is a service of Maitland City Council and is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW. Daughter of the Lightning Snake represents a partnership between Maitland Regional Art Gallery, the Hassall Milson Collection and Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre. The work in this exhibition is on loan from the Hassall Milson Collection Warrang/Sydney with curatorial assistance from Robert Hirschmann. MRAG would also like to recognise the support of our Publication Sponsor, the Gordon Darling Foundation.

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Baratjala

2018, natural pigments and synthetic polymer paint on paper, 58 × 65cm

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GHTER OF THE LIGHTNING SNAKE