In Her Words is a three-part series (adapted from the exhibition pamphlet edited by MOA Curator Carol E. Mayer) that offers a closer look at the artists behind the extraordinary art featured in the exhibition Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia. Each artist is presented here individually as she reflects on her work: how she learned to paint, what subjects she has painted, and why. The artists’ words are accompanied by a detail of selected paintings, offering a glimpse of the intimacy between each woman and her practice.
Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia—on from November 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019—makes its Canadian premiere at MOA and marks the first exhibition of all-women artists at the Museum. The nine artists—Nonggirrnga Marawili, Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Yukultji Napangati, Angelina Pwerle, Carlene West, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Lena Yarinkura, Gulumbu Yunupingu, and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu—are important cultural leaders held in high esteem in their communities as well as renowned artists, locally and internationally.
In this second of three posts, we meet Angelina Pwerle, Carlene West and Regina Pilawuk Wilson, and take a look at their histories, process and inspiration.
Members of Indigenous communities are respectfully advised that a number of people mentioned in writing or depicted in photographs below have passed away.
Anmatyerr/Australian. Born circa 1946 in Utopia, Northern Territory. Lives and works in Utopia, Northern Territory.
Angelina Pwerle paints the story of Ahalpere country where the Bush Plum ancestor is a powerful presence in the land.
She says, “This painting is about my father’s country and about arnwekety [bush plum]. The flowers are there, the little bush plum flowers. That bush plum is my father’s Dreaming. That bush plum comes from Ahalpere country. It has little white flowers, then after that there is the fruit. If it doesn’t rain, the plants are dry; if it rains there is an abundance of bush plums. The flower is small when they have just come out… well, after that the fruit comes. The fruits are really nice when they are ripe.
Pitjantjatjara/Australian. Born circa 1944 in Tjitjiti, Western Australia. Lives and works in Tjuntjuntarra, Western Australia.
In 1959 Carlene West and her family left the desert to escape British nuclear testing at Maralinga. “We thought it was a big wind carrying us. We were holding on and were frightened. We were frightened about the bomb and didn’t go back.”
It was 50 years before she returned and began a new series of paintings.
“These paintings represent my country of Tjitjiti, a large salt lake. It is the site of the creation story of Two Women. This story involves two women walking ccross the big salt-lake with a child when they are called by a stranger, a Quoll Man, to hand over the child. The two ladies make a run for it but the Quoll Man threw a spear and impaled the two women together and then killed the child. This is a sad story. Those two women can still be seen today standing at Tjitjiti.”
Regina Pilawuk Wilson
Ngan’gikurrungurr/Australian. Born 1948 in Daly River, Northern Territory. Lives and works in Peppimenarti, Northern Territory.
Regina Wilson was a weaver before she became a painter.
“My grandfather and grandmother used to make big fishnet, before Europeans came to Australia. We call it syaw. They used to make four or five and put them in the water. I forgot the stitch because the missionaries took us in, and my grandparents died. My big sister told me to do the story on painting for our children and grandchildren, so they can remember what our ancestors used to do a long time ago. She drew it on the sand, on the dirt, and told me to paint it. I’ve got to paint the story on the canvas. It’s like our history.”
“I paint this for the younger generation in Peppimenarti. It is important that they remember what our ancestors did, before the Europeans came, and to look at this and be proud.”
“It is important for us to show our painting in a different part of the world. You know these two cultures, white and black, are still learning from each other.”