Tiwi Artists

This summer, Tiwi art overtakes Melbourne in the largest ever exhibition of Tiwi art (from 1911-2020) at the National Gallery of Victoria, as well as satellite shows throughout Victoria. Queenscliff Gallery is showing Tiwi printmakers after the artists from Jilamara Art Centre visited Adelaide’s Mountford Collection.

Jilamara Art Centre manager Will Heathcote says that December ‘will be a formidable time for Tiwi art in Melbourne.’ Known for its geometric traditions (drawn from body paint designs), Tiwi art has extended very naturally into print media. The first printing press was acquired with the assistance of Australian Print Workshop in 1995. Funding was sought in 2000, to enable artists to visit Adelaide’s Charles Mountford Collection. Mountford (1890-1976) was an anthropologist who visited Milikapiti in the 1920s and 1940s. What he gathered comprises the largest Tiwi artefact collection in Australia. Now managed by the South Australian Museum, it includes over 1000 items – tunga bark bags, tutini (poles), bark paintings and spears. After spending time with the collection, leading Tiwi artists Pedro Wonaeamirri and Janice Murray Pungautiji made prints inspired by these artefacts. Since then, workshops at the art centre on Melville Island with Australian Print Workshop (APW), Basil Hall Editions, Northern Editions, and Franck Gohier have seen this medium flourish.

Queenscliff Gallery specialises in printmaking and works on paper, and has a print workshop actively used by their regional Victorian community. In their December exhibition of Tiwi prints by seventeen artists, the unique visual tradition for which Tiwi art is known is explored. Director Soula Mantalvanos first heard of the Jilamara community through APW’s master printer, Martin King.

‘Martin mentioned he had assisted the Tiwi artists acquire a printing press and had conducted the first printmaking workshop at the art centre. We began representing Tiwi artists in 2018. The stories within the works are so special. Earlier this year we exhibited larger works by Tiwi artists Timothy Cook, Janice Murray Pungautiji, Pedro Wonaeamirri, and Dino Wilson. For this December exhibition we are focusing on some of the smaller works in the Tiwi collection – it forms another perspective.’

Notable is Michelle Woody Minnapinni, who works in many media from weaving to painting. Currently a finalist in the 2020 King Wood Mallesons Contemporary First Nations Art Award, her work has also been acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. The print included in Queenscliff Gallery’s exhibition is titled Purukapali, Japarra Amintiya, Waiya and Jinani Minga (2018), and relates the Tiwi creation story of how mortality came to the Tiwi people.

Woody was part of the Basil Hall workshop held at Jilamara in 2017. She remembers ‘that first time doing prints with other artists. I did that print as part of the portfolio.’ It features natural ochres (browns, pale yellow) and concentric circles with cross-hatching that resolves into a mesmerising pattern. ‘I go out on Country to collect materials, bush dyes, pandanus. And all the ochres come from Country. We all help each other. These exhibitions are a proud moment for all Tiwi artists, that our artwork is being seen. Makes them proud of their artwork and sharing culture with the outside world.’

Chris Black, also in the Queenscliff exhibition, is exhibiting with Janice Murray Pungautiji and Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri at MARS Gallery (November 2020). His aquatint, Jarrangini (buffalo) (2017) repeats a buffalo motif on a two-tone background. Heathcote says, ‘Chris’s buffalo and other local animal imagery are made in a very unique jilamara (body painting designs), a bit like Tiwi Pop Art in natural ochres.’ His work featured in news feeds all over the world earlier this year when he was approached by Katie Hagebols, manager of Marrawuddi Gallery at Kakadu National Park, NT, for authorisation to use his buffalo design as a tattoo. The arrangement, executed by the Copyright Agency, represents welcome best practice for licencing.

Geraldine Pilakui, Raelene Kerinauia Lampuwatu, Jimmy Mungatopi, and Woody are in both the Queenscliff Gallery exhibition and the four-channel projection, YOYI (dance), which is at the heart of the NGV show. This installation expresses the intrinsic connection between Tiwi art, song, dance and jilamara. For Mantalvanos, the appeal of Tiwi prints lies in ‘the history, the culture and the storytelling but, as lovers of print, it is much about the mark-making; the graphic quality in these works and how they communicate Tiwi culture. The work is simple yet so striking.’ The prints at Queenscliff encapsulate the continuum of change and the incorporation of tradition and innovation, with a striking exhibition of designs and motifs distilling the essence of Tiwi imagery.    

Tiwi Artists
3–28 December 2020
Queenscliff Gallery, Vic

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