When Puna Yanima was born to parents Norman and Lucy Yanima in the bush at De Rose Hill, a small station in the far north of South Australia, 70 kilometres from the township of Mimili, the Stuart Highway was a significantly smaller road than it is today. Now one of Australia’s major arteries, the highway is the main access point to the seven art centres that stretch across the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunyjatjara (APY) Lands, home of some of the nation’s most innovative artists under the spotlight of public and private galleries in Australia and abroad.
‘My parents were both Yankunytjatjara and I grew up speaking Yankunytjatjara and living in the old way. We collected bush tucker and camped out every night. Then we moved to Indulkana. There was nothing there; no wali (houses), no shop, no clinic. Only Anangu tjuta. I learned Pitjantjatjara, and I found a wati (man). My wati was from Mimili, so we moved across and my children were born in the bush just outside of Mimili.’
Formerly known as Everard Park, a cattle station that was returned to Aboriginal ownership through the 1981 Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights Act, the Mimili community is home to 300 Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people who act as custodians of both the land and the tjukurpa (creation stories). Their people have been living on this land for millennia. Its art centre, Mimili Maku Arts, is owned and managed by a board of Anangu directors who develop programs that continue to support artists from the Mimili community and the four surrounding homelands of Perentie Bore, Wanmara, Blue Hills and Sandy Bore through teaching and encouraging intergenerational cultural exchange. This, as director Mumu Mike Williams says, ‘is Anangu way’.
Puna began painting when the art centre was just a little old brick building (now the oldest building in Mimili), barely large enough to house half a dozen artists at any one time. Art centre managers were forced to create a roster for those wishing to use its limited facilities. In 2014, a new art centre was built, providing resources and services to the artists working in community.
Puna has spent the past six months in this new building painting the three major works now installed across the southern wall of Domain House. In them, we see Antara, an important women’s ceremonial site near Mimili. Puna and fellow senior artists Betty Kuntiwa Pumani, Ngupulya Pumani and Tuppy Goodwin tell the story of the significant maku (witchetty grub) tjukurpa from this site in their works.
‘I was a kungka (women) when I first visited Antara, when I was first shown and told tjukurpa pulka (many stories). Antara is very important for women around here. My mother Lucy and many other women showed me the maku tjukurpa (witchetty grub story), and we would go out to Antara to have inma (song and dance). Still today we visit Antara. We go with minyma tjuta (many women) collecting maku (witchetty grub) and tjala (honey ant). Tjukurpa pulka munu inma pulka (Lots of stories, singing, dancing and ceremony). This is where we pass on our knowledge, we take tjitji ninti (kids that know about the importance of Antara), so they can watch and learn.’
‘I have always painted Antara because it is important for the women of Mimili. All my sisters know and paint Antara. My painting way has changed, but the importance of Antara has always been at the centre of my work.’
Puna’s shift from acrylic paint to ink in recent years has afforded a certain fluidity in her strokes when marking out the ngura (country) of this sacred place, its kapi tjukula (rock holes), apu (rocks) and murpu (mountains). It led her away from a vibrant palette and into a monochromatic one, from which she has begun introducing singular, additional colours such as the royal blue we see in these works on display. Yet, with the ability to dilute and mix the inks, Puna is able to achieve nuanced variations in tone across the surfaces of these paintings.
Puna’s daughter Linda is the first Anangu woman to live in a remote community while being dependent on a motorised wheelchair. Her paintings transition between, and often combine, tjukurpa and figurative depictions of everyday community life.
‘There are so many things now that didn’t exist when I was a little girl: water tanks, windmills, wali (houses), toyota (cars). I want people to see what Mimili is like today. When I’m an old woman I can teach this kutjupa (new) way of painting to the young ones.’
Linda spent her formative years on the homeland around Park Well and Sandy Bore in a small house shared with her grandparents, parents, sisters and cousins. At that time the men were working as stockmen on stations and would be away from the homeland for long periods of time. Through watching and listening to the women make art – carving punu (wooden sculptures) daily – Linda began learning the stories that inform her paintings today.
‘I paint what I see, apu munu puli (rocks and hills), punu (trees), kapi tjukurla (water holes). I also paint maku tjukurpa (witchetty grub stories) from around Antara. This is what I learned from the other women, my aunties, my mother and my grandmother. I learned about these stories watching them make punu and talk about it. That’s why I always like to include punu in my paintings. This is the old way for stories to travel.’
Unlike her mother, Linda’s use of colour is bold. In the four works for this exhibition, her largest to date, we see Linda work wet on wet, mixing colour on the canvas rather than on a palette prior to application. Earthen reds and warm yellows that mimic the rocky desert landscape surrounding Mimili meet with soft violets and deep plums. Her motifs are framed by gestural line work and veiled dotting. There is an unquestionable confidence in her brushwork, and with it a pace and vivacity that animates her telling of community through rhythm and delight.
‘Wangka Kutjara, Tjukurpa Kutju‘ by Puna Yanima and Linda Puna
Until September 3rd
Linden New Art
Domain House, Dallas Brooks Drive,
South Yarra, Victoria