The deaths go on! Yet another senior artist has been taken from us with the announcement today that Jean Baptiste Apuatimi has died on Bathurst Island at the age of 72.
Only last week, the death was reported of Jack Dale – the old man of The Kimberley, probably 90 when he died, and unique in crossing over the story-telling of East Kimberley Gija artists like Rover Thomas and Paddy Bedford with his own Ngarinyin preoccuptation with the Wandjina.
The Tiwi elder, born in 1940, carried the famous surname of her much-older husband, Declan – a master carver, who died in 1985 after “giving her eleven children, that old man”! But he’d also encouraged Jean-Baptiste to develop her own artistic practice in order to support that family after his death. And with canvases reaching a dramatic $25,000 before the GFC hit, Jean-Baptiste achieved that aim. In 2011, one of her works was presented to President Obama during his State visit. In 2007, she was selected for the first Indigenous Triennial at the National Gallery. One of her daughters is an artist in her own right – Marie Josette Orsto.
In the catalogue for that show – Culture Warriors – curator Judith Ryan comments that Jean-Baptiste inherited and passed on Declan’s important designs, but she also “dramatically re-interpreted them”. Crocodiles played a large part – Jikapayinga the cheeky female version, and Yirrikapyi, the man who transformed himself into a crocodile after he’d been speared.
Apuatimi also painted abstracted images of Tutini – the Pukumani Poles associated with mortuary ceremonies on the Tiwi Islands. “Those poles remind me of my husband”, she told Judith Ryan. He carves that way”. But she was also referring to the story of Purrukuparli who introduced death to the Tiwi. Ryan concludes, “This symbiosis of iconography and narrative imbues her work with an indelible Tiwiness, which is intrinsically associated with the poetics of mourning”.
There’ll be mourning on the Islands.