‘Four Clans’ is a major exhibition of works by Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Marra, and Gudanji artists supported by Waralungku Arts (pronounced Wharr-Ral-Loonghu) in Borroloola and presented at the Godinymayin Yijard Art Centre in Katherine. More than 30 paintings and carvings will be on view and for sale. But the centrepiece is a collaborative mural-sized canvas inspired by senior artist Jack Green and his conversations with other Elders. Participating artists include Dinah Norman, Jemima Miller, Mavis Timothy, Jacky and Shauntrell Green, Benjamin Ellis, Colleen Charlie, Rhoda and Debandro Hammer, Kendrick Douglas, Marlene Timothy, Maria Pyro and Katrina McKinnnon.

This Four Clans project and exhibition has been generously sponsored by the McArthur River Mine Community Benefits Trust.

Many great visions are conceived on the veranda of an art centre.

In the height of the 2019 dry season, senior artist and activist Jack Green called upon fellow Elders in Borroloola, their community close to the south-western coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, to develop an idea. He described a vision of one really large painting, with all the clans working together to add parts and tell their stories about Country. From the Waralungku Arts veranda he proposed a project to bring together Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Marra, and Gudanji—and create a major new work of art to represent their connections.

Tribal Elders Dinah Norman, Jemima Miller, Mavis Timothy and Peggy Mawson Yabu agreed that this was a vision worth pursuing, and through Waralungku Arts the journey began. What emerged from their collaboration is a potent symbol of the strength of creativity, identity, and shared vision. It is a look at community.

The main painting developed in the art centre over many months. Around a single canvas, important stories and knowledge were shared, relationships were strengthened, and young people came together with Elders to learn and grow.

The artists deliberately drew on both tribal culture and the European map to depict the land, features, and mythology of Borroloola—imprinting the work with both story and history. Discussions involved the past and the present, the physical and the spiritual, land and sea. Stories from the Dreamtime were shared, memories from colonisation were passed on, and traditions around ceremony, hunting, and bush-tucker medicine were painted on to the canvas.

“Various artists would come in and continue the work at different times—sometimes in groups and sometimes on their own,” explains Waralungku Arts Manager, Katrina Langdon. “When they worked together they would discuss and share stories with younger members and also with visitors. The creative process and story-telling was almost as important as the end result.”

Throughout the project, Elders guided the cultural protocols to help the artists fill the massive canvas with their knowledge and imagination. What began as a thought on a remote veranda will forever stand as a unique expression of country, culture and identity—a depiction of memories, Dreamings, families, and aspirations.

“The final work has been purchased from the artists by Waralungku Arts and will be on permanent display as the signature piece for our art centre,” says Langdon”. There are lots of other outcomes for this collective painting—local highway signage will feature the image as an icon for Borroloola, large scale art prints are on sale at the art centre, and there are other opportunities for merchandise and future extensions of the Four Clans project”.

“The painting was always intended to remain in the permanent collection of the art centre”, Langdon continued, “displayed in our main lobby as a signature piece for the art centre and for Borroloola. We have loaned it to Godinymayin for our up-coming show and then it will be returned. It is quite important to the artists that it remains here as they use it as a story-telling tool for visitors, and they really like to be able to show people the work and talk about it. It is also a teaching aid for young people”.

The show is supported by MRM Community Benefits Trust which is a separate entity to the McArthur River Mine – with whom the artists and Elders at Borroloola have had a series of disputes, many the subject of paintings, over the River’s pollution and the destruction of sacred sites. MRMCBT has a Board of Directors with a majority of local Indigenous people. So far, a total of $2,110,223 has been contributed from the Trust for culture and art projects. And that doesn’t include the costs of this collaborative artwork, which have not only paid for the artists’ work, but all future royalties will go back to the artists.