‘Malarra, Angalya akwa Amamardamilya (Rock, Leaf and Land)‘ is an exploration of Anindilyakwa artists’ traditional and contemporary use of natural pigments as an expression of relationship with Country.
Today, Groote Eylandt (the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria) is well-known for its high-quality manganese deposits, and one of the largest and longest running manganese mines in the world.
However, this naturally occurring pigment has also long been a feature in the creative expression of Anindilyakwa, the peoples of the Groote Archipelago – most notably in their traditional bark paintings. Artists drew on the characteristically opaque, black background of Anindilyakwa barks to create the basis of their sculptural works; experimenting with textured and smooth finishes that are subtly accented by natural wood, carved details and, in one artist’s case, sacred coloured sand.
As part of the revitalised Mens Visual Art program at Anindilyakwa Arts, artists Daniel Ngurruwuthun, Elvis Bara, Sandy Maymuru and Ramish Lalara have worked exclusively with locally sourced manganese pigment and wood to revisit this traditional art form, and create visual representations of totems, stories and song lines, that are significant to each artist.
‘Manganese it’s not really rough, it’s really smooth’ says artist Sandy Maymuru. ‘And the colour inside, it can show you like the night sky. It’s dark but it lets the light come out like stars. It represents Groote Eylandt. It’s our skin, the colour from it. Like our skin, our dance, our paint up’.
The incorporation of manganese into contemporary works extends beyond a nod to traditional art practices. It is a conscious choice to incorporate this culturally and economically valuable element of Country into future, locally led economies, which will continue to strengthen as the long-running manganese mine on Groote Eylandt winds down over the coming decade.
Alongside this exciting innovation from the men, the women of Anindilyakwa Arts have also pushed the boundaries of their well-renowned silk bush dye practice. This communal practice sees the women utilise traditional dyeing methods working with leaves, roots and barks endemic to the landscape. Excitingly, familiar inky and brown tones are now transcended by new hues of green, purple and pink, a new palette of colours in close relationship with the pristine landscape of the Eylandt.
“To me the scarves look like the rocks and all the different layers of the land, the trees and the bush. The spirits live all around in the trees and through the bush and when you are near the caves you can feel them floating. You can see these colours in the paintings in the caves, on the rock walls and when you sit there and look by yourself you can feel all the spirits moving,” says Bernadette Watt, an artist involved in the collective.
Malarra, Angalya akwa Amamardamilya (Rock, Leaf and Land) is stories of old and colours of new, and opens at Laundry Gallery Saturday 12 August, and runs until September 2nd.