The Honours system in Australia was pretty good to the arts this Australia Day: no fewer than three ACs “ the top gong – though I’m bemused at the appearance of Olivia Newton-John at that stratospheric level! Then there were six AOs, no fewer than 26 AMs, and an amazing 42 OAMs, which is where the arts normally feature. Anyone would think we had a government with a dynamic arts policy happening!
In Aboriginal art terms, the delight was there towards the top with Banduk Mamburra Marika, the Yolngu leader from Yirrkala in East Arnhemland receiving an AO, For distinguished service to the visual arts, particularly to Indigenous printmaking and bark painting, and through cultural advisory roles. Some might be surprised to see Dr Marika listed for her bark painting “ for, print making has always been her art form of choice, something she pioneered at the Buku Larrnggay Art Centre, which she once managed. Indeed, the ‘Saltwater‘ barks exhibition catalogue at the National Maritime Museum notes that her contribution to the collection which later helped to win the Blue Mud Bay sea-rights case was only the second bark she’d ever attempted.
But Banduk was definitely a Rirritjingu clan leader as well as a radical woman in her community “ encouraged to paint by her father, Mawalan, off to study in Canberra, a member of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council (like her brother Wandjuk), a winner of the prestigious Red Ochre Award, victor in an important copyrights case involving an image of hers used on a carpet, and the curator of the important ‘Yalangbara‘ exhibition which won her homeland heritage protection as well as explaining the importance of the Djang’kawu story to the wider world. A work for that show entitled ‘Yalangbara‘ won Best Bark at the 22nd NATSIAAs in 2005.
Less likely to be noticed in the long list of Awardees is the OAM for Christopher John Simon of Alice Springs: For service to the visual arts through support for and promotion of Aboriginal art. Chris Simon, founder of Yanda Art is the classic outsider in an industry which tends to do its best to destroy such intruders. But, with his rural property just outside Alice, he actually offers refuge to some of the greatest Desert artists when they have to be town. His transportation to and from their communities, medical support, locked gates against importunate relatives, a campfire around which to gossip and massive canvases on offer has led to some of the finest Desert art in the past decade. Names to conjure with include Mrs Bennett and Tommy Watson, Esther Giles and Walala Tjapaltjarri, Naata Nungarrayi and Turkey Tolson, plus many another name you would primarily associate with Papunya Tula Artists.
PTA may have developed painting centres at Kintore and Kiwirrkurra, but they’ve never been able to do enough for their artists in Alice. I suspect PTA is realistic about this division of the spoils. But dealers in the cities are often forced to choose between selling Yanda art and being allowed to received art from traditional community centres.
Like Patjarr “ where, sadly one those old Desert men who only discovered art as they entered the creative ferment of the Wanarn Aged Care home, Johnson Ooldigi Lane has died. Mr Lane had a peaceful passing on 26 December 2018.
As Jane Menzies, the art coordinator at Patjarr told me, His country and knowledge was his legacy, which he immortalised in sporadic, but deliberate painterly daubs on black canvas. The marks he made were place-markers to his country and identity, and they often told a story. Sometimes, a journey out hunting, and other times about the Tjukurrpa he carried with him in his heart and the Country he loved.
His works were ethereal and elusive, yet tangible, potent and poignant, Jane Menzies concluded poetically.
And only months before Mr Lane’s passing he was selected for the 2018 Telstra NATSIA Awards and his quartet of tiny canvases hung proudly in Darwin.
A funeral will be held for him on February 18 on his country of Mantamaru (Jameson), WA.
Finally, on a more cheerful note, Art Mob in Hobart has just opened its traditional ‘Top Twenty’ show, reflecting the artists who sold best for them last year. Local Tassie artists like the Oates brothers, Mick Quilliam and Lola Greeno filled several of the top positions, but the star was Dennis Nona whose print sales don’t seem to have been at all affected by his trial and imprisonment, for he’s never lost his deep engagement with Torres Strait culture.
Artist: Banduk Mamburra Marika, Mawalan Marika, Wandjuk Marika, Mrs Bennett, Tommy Watson, Esther Giles, Walala Tjapaltjarri, Naata Nungarrayi, Turkey Tolson, Johnson Ooldigi Lane, Mick Quilliam, Lola Greeno, Dennis Nona, Reuben Oates, Julian Oates,