One of Australia’s most successful Indigenous artists, Mavis Ngallametta, has a wonderful tribute show just opened at the Queensland Art Gallery, a little over a year after she died aged 75. Ngallametta died on her Country, Aurukun, as she had wished and knew the show was planned.

She was a Putch clan elder and a cultural leader of the Wik and Kugu people of Aurukun on the Cape York Peninsula. Ngallametta was one of the fastest-rising talents on the Aboriginal art scene in her meteoric 11-year painting career, and was hailed as both ˜a master colourist and an alchemist of sorts’. In 2013, she won the NATSIA General Painting Award, In 2015 she featured at the inaugural Tarnanthi Festival in Adelaide, and in 2018 received the Red Ochre Award, the Australia Council’s distinguished Award for Lifetime Achievement. Fittingly, Ngallametta’s last two paintings were acquired by the Queensland Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia.

This despite Mavis leaving the Wik & Kugu Art Centre to be managed by its manager’s wife, Gina Allain, whom she referred to as my Number One handmaiden. Formerly, she’d chaired the centre, had initiated ghost net weaving, had lead the women’s move from basket weaving to painting, and had initiated the fund-raising for a separate women’s painting house. Now she chose exclusive representation by a Sydney gallery where Martin Browne encouraged her to tackle three-metre canvases which brought in five-figure sums.

Happily this didn’t lead to the sort of boycott that the late Tommy Watson faced after he left his art centre “ never receiving the sort of retrospective from an institution like the QAG that his brilliant Desert art deserved.

Of course, the exhibition is off-limits to visitation. But video content re Mavis Ngallametta @ QAG is now live on the QAGOMA’s website courtesy of expert hostess Katina Davidson, the Indigenous Art Curator who replaced Bruce McLean, the originator of the Ngallametta retrospective but is now Deputy Director for Indigenous Engagement at the National Gallery of Australia. This collection of individual films is, I suspect a more effective way of sharing a show online than the 3D tours that some galleries are offering.

See the link below.

Success lead to much-enjoyed travel by Mrs Ngallametta, But for all of her love of travel, Mavis Ngallametta always longed to return to the west Cape ” to her Country, her community, her family, her home. That’s when she sang the song that was dearest to her heart ” ˜Show me the way to go home’ – which just happens to be the title of the retrospective.

Show me the way to go home,
I’m tired and I want to go to bed,
Cos I had a little drink about an hour ago,
And it’s gone right through my head*,
No matter where I roam,
On land or sea or foam,
You will always hear me singing this song,
Show me the way to go home.

Good additional news – the QAG will be reopening to actually visit this exhibition from Monday 22nd June.