In this article, Ian Plunkett and David Wroth from Japingka Gallery talk about the Spinifex Women's Collaborative which features in the latest exhibition from the The Spinifex Arts Project.
We're standing in front of one of my favourite paintings from the current Spinifex exhibition. It's unusual painting because it's a collaborative work. All the senior women have worked together on this, where each woman has painted a part of the country in the story. They paint these areas because they are the recognised custodians. We have three artists in this particular collaborative work. It has really beautiful vibrant colours - they leap out from the canvas. Even though it's three artists, they still have a cohesiveness which you wouldn't expect by three very different individuals creating an artwork.
This painting tells the story of the ancient Seven Sisters Dreaming story. One of the few stories that goes right across Australia. The story develops as it goes across Australia. Different adventures, different events befall Seven Sisters as they try to flee from the medicine man, Kurdaitcha man, who's following them. He's fallen in love with one of the sisters. This is a forbidden love because he's not allowed to be with her because she's the wrong skin group. They're not meant to be together, but he's a powerful medicine man, he's ignoring the rules and the laws. The sisters flee flee right across Australia, right over here to near where Perth now stands on the Swan River.
Everywhere along the way there are important sites, and that's what this painting is telling us about. The important sites where the women stopped. They hid in caves from the Kurdaitcha Man. They had run-ins with him, different spirits got involved to protect them, or help them. Each one of these sites is an important spiritual site. This painting reflects that - all the major sites and waterholes and ceremonial places. It's a map really, showing you where all these events took place. You can see the Seven Sisters again and again reappearing throughout the canvas.
This painting in a way, is a novel. It tells a really long story. If the artists were here, they'd be able to sing the story as well. A lot of it is sacred, but the overall outline of the story is here depicted in this wonderful painting. This is a major painting. A collaborative work, and this is the only show that the Spinifex artists have done for 2020, so it's a really rare treat to be able to stand in front of this particular painting and absorb it all. I love it.
What's always interesting with the Seven Sisters story is that there's a story connected with the constellation as it passes over in the night sky. There's an equivalent Dreaming track that it goes across the land. It goes through many different territories for many different language groups. Each group of custodians has control, or has management of particular sites and particular stories, where that part of the Dreaming track goes through their birth country. It means that when we see people come together to paint a painting like this, it's the most authoritative people connected with the country which relates to that part of the story.
This means that it has an integrity and an authority that only comes from senior managers of Country. One of the other things is that the seniority passes onto the next generation. So managers are very careful to inculcate all the aspects of the story. Even in the painting it's expressing something important about the painting, and that's passed on to the next generation by everyone participating in activities like this, where you've got a joint collaboration to paint one story and one big canvas.
Standing in front of these really large canvases, with their vibrant colour and obviously their many different aspects, you just feel like wow, what a huge story this is! The painting is impressive and dynamic,and the whole background to it is quite extraordinary. So collaborative paintings,in general,from Spinifex artists are sensational things to look at. This one is a really beautiful example of that.