Borne of the Land
Here we meet two of Warringarri Aboriginal Arts rising stars, to learn a little about how they continue to explore their country and their people through their art.
Together We Fly - August/September 2018
Words by: Michelle Hespe
Bush Tucker Connections
Looking at one of Gloria Mengil’s paintings is to step back to a time over forty years ago, when her grandmother and mother once collected bush tucker with her as a child, on their traditional land of Binjin.
The paintings are tangible, intricately detailed connections to both her and her family’s past, and also everlasting links between her and the land that she continues to explore and learn from.
When Gloria first began working as an artist, she worked in the mediums of slate and boab — carving out her past, her thoughts, her dreams. “Then in 2000 I began painting because I wanted to learn more about my country,” she says. “I mostly paint my grandmother’s traditional country.”
Gloria was born in Kununurra – a town on the eastern extremity of the Kimberley Region that is considered an oasis in the desert. It’s a special place that is fertile enough to grow melons and mangoes. It is here that Gloria learned about what she could collect from the surrounding lands to eat, and right from a young age, one of her favourite types of bush tucker was bush peanuts, which she loves to eat after they’ve been roasted on coals.
These peanuts are often featured in her bold graphic paintings, and they’ve now also been adapted to appear on hand-thrown terracotta and stoneware plates, platters and beakers, and they’re digitally printed on elegant silk scarves. The beautiful pieces are the end result of a collaboration between Warringarri Aboriginal Arts and JamFactory Contemporary Craft.
Sadly, despite there being benefits of increased agricultural expansion in Kununurra and surrounds, the changes to the original habitat in which Gloria and her family foraged has led to the bush foods that have fed Indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of years to be threatened. Today Gloria rarely eats the bush tucker that she once survived on. However, through the intricately detailed paintings and objects that celebrate Gloria’s favoured foods, is the hope that these nuts and fruit can be protected for future generations to enjoy.
Dora Griffiths has had a rich and colourful life in Kununurrra, surrounded by two things that she loves: her home Country and art. Over a decade ago, she worked at the Warringarri Arts Centre as an artist support worker, helping the elderly artists to mix paints. She then worked as the gallery’s Administrator, then moved up to become Gallery Assistant. She then became a Director on the gallery’s Board, later taking on the role of Chairperson. Dora then joined the ANKAAA Board (Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists) and completed the ANKAA Arts Worker extension program.
Being around so much art, history, culture, and talented artists led Dora to putting her own talent to the test, and today, while juggling being a mother and a grandmother, when she manages to find some time for herself she loves to paint her father and mother’s traditional country. She’s proud to follow in the footsteps of her elders, learning about Country, culture and art, from her parents, acclaimed artist Peggy, and recently deceased Alan Griffiths.
In 2017, Dora curated her first exhibition, Legacy, which was a special collection of works that embodied the past, present and future thinking around the art centre’s collection, honouring the work of four deceased artists. Dora created the concept around the work of former masters Paddy Carlton, Daisy Bitting, Mignonette Jamin and Peter Newry, who were renowned for using art as a tool to celebrate, educate and deliver cultural knowledge to future generations. They were pioneers of their time and helped to create the vision and direction of Warringarrri Aboriginal Arts. They left a powerful artistic legacy that continues to gather momentum today.
“Even though our old people are gone, they are still with us here today, their spirit is here. It is a way of connecting back to the artists and also reminding us how far these artists have carried this place and kept us motivated and connected to each other through arts and culture,” Dora said while addressing the crowd on opening night at ‘Legacy’.
The exhibition will continue throughout 2018. Due to the great interest generated by the show, Dora and Warringarri Aboriginal Arts hope to run more exhibitions in the future, including a prospective focus on the art of Kalumburu, whose remote Kira Kiro art centre Warringarri supports and helps to promote.
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