Warlayirti: The Art of Balgo, exhibition at RMIT Gallery in Melbourne

Warlayirti: The Art of Balgo

Exhibition dates: Tuesday 16 September – Saturday 8 November, 2014

Exhibition opening: Monday 15 September, 2014

Opening speaker: Mr Tony Ellwood, Director National Gallery of Victoria

Curator: Jacqueline Austin Healy

About the exhibition

Warlayirti: The Art of Balgo will examine the aesthetic divergences and vibrancy that distinguishes the art of Balgo and the importance of Christianity to the Balgo community as a means of cross cultural communication.

Balgo (Wirrimanu), Western Australia, in the midst of the Tanami desert is the ceremonial hub for several Indigenous clans from the Kimberley and Western Desert and is on the Luurnpa (kingfisher) Dreaming track.

Many of Australia's most recognised Australian artists come from this region including Murityarru Sunfly Tjampitjin,Wimmitji Tjampitjin, Boxer Milner, Eubena Nampitjin, Elizabeth Nyumi, Lucy Yukenbarri and John Mosquito Tjapangati.

Snake Country (The fight of the snakes)

Mathew Gill Tjupurrula [Mathew Gill]
Snake Country [The fight of the snakes] 1986
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
50.8 x 76.2 cm
Catalogue no. 22
Acquired 28/4/1987
Australian Museum

This exhibition brings together the church banners, as well as early and more recent work by the leading and emerging artists from Warlayirti Artists, one of the most successful art centres to emerge from remote area Australia .

The art movement began with the painting of church banners in 1981 for Father Peile’s jubilee lead by the senior men. A watershed exhibition, Art from the Great Sandy Desert was held in 1986 at the Art Gallery of WA resulting in the art from Balgo being recognised as a distinct body of work distinguished by diversity of style and bold use of colour.

A pivotal work in the exhibition is a painting by Sunfly Tjampitjin of the first priest appearing in the desert. Sunfly, a senior lawman and community leader, was instrumental in persuading the various groups in the Tamami desert to go and live at the mission when it was established at Balgo. The mission was a chance to buffer the aggressive practices of pastoralists in the area, becoming a refuge for people from the onslaught of white settlement.

The curator, Jacqueline Healy has been visiting Warlayirti Artists annually for over a decade and has worked closely with the committee arts advisors and individual artists in devising this proposal. Key individuals who participated in the 1986 exhibition have been interviewed including; Gracie Green, Bruce Njamme, Gary Njamme and Eubena Nampitjin. Important primary research material has been located in the Warlayirti Artists archives including the original documentation for the artworks in the 1986 exhibtion.

Warlayirti: The Art of Balgo has been developed in collaboration with Warlayirti Artists Committee and the exhibition will be accompanied by a major catalogue incorporating new research material.

Warlayirti: The Art of Balgo will tour to Araluen (Alice Springs)

Dates 14 November 2014 to 15 February 2015

Images courtesy of RMIT