Josie Petrick Kemarre on Witch Doctors, Family & Art
Josie (Josepha) Petrick Kemarre is an Anmatyerre-speaking artist from Central Australia. She divides her time between her family’s traditional land and the town of Alice Springs. In this interview, she talks about seeing a witch doctor, her painting and family.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Santa Teresa and left when I was married at 16. I moved to an outstation on MacDonald Downs near Harts Range. My brother still lives in Santa Teresa. When I moved to Utopia I only spoke Aranda but learned Anmatyerre. They are similar languages.
You’ve been away visiting family?
Yes, I was at Tennant Creek. I came back on Sunday. I’ve been crook for a few weeks. Now I feel better. A witch doctor made me better.
Is that the first time you’ve seen a lady witch doctor?
Yes. She wasn’t a white doctor, she’s an Aboriginal one, a strong one, a Warlpiri woman from Ali Curung. She fixed my leg. She takes away all the sand from inside. I’m going to see an Aranda witch doctor woman in Hidden Valley Camp.
Did she fix you with bush medicine?
Yes, bush medicine. Some person was jealous of me. She told me you’ve got a burnt feather on your back inside the skin. The witch doctor removed the feather. I feel ok now.
The witch doctor really helped you?
She fixed the pain in my back and shoulder too. I rubbed bush medicine all over. My daughter helped me rub it on my back. It made me strong.
So you’ve had a new painting, what is that about?
It’s a great big one. It’s called bush flower. I paint in layers. In this one I do a red layer first, then an orange layer over the top and then yellow ochre over the top. I use orange and red and yellow, sometimes blue and pink.
How long did this painting take?
This painting took me over six hours so I’m going to rest tomorrow.
What are the other stories you paint?
I paint bush plum too.
Do other members of your family paint?
Yes, my daughter is a visual artist just like me. She paints bush plum in orange and red and yellow.
Anastasia Bundey Kemarre also has a painting in the upcoming Japingka exhibition. Is she related to you?
I am Anastasia’s grandmother and so is Gloria Petyarre. Gloria told Anastasia she could paint Gloria’s story of Bush Medicine – Leaves blowing in the Wind.
When did you start painting?
A long long time ago. I taught myself mostly. I also saw old Emily and Gloria and Kathleen Petyarre painting.
When you are out bush where do you live?
Number 5 Bore. I have lots of family there.
When you are out at Number 5 Bore do people still look for bush tucker?
Yes, bush onion, bush banana and goanna. Sometimes we have rabbit and kangaroo. The men go shooting and bring them back.
You come into Alice Springs a lot, why is that?
I like to come to see my family here.
How many grandchildren do you have now?
There’s nine of them, 6 grandsons and 3 granddaughters.
Sometimes you’re called Josie and other times Josepha.
My real name is Josepha. I sign my paintings Josie but I might change that to Josepha. Josepha is my proper name.
What do you want people to think about your paintings?
I want them to think that my paintings are nice paintings.
How does painting make you feel?
Happy. It makes me feel good.