Will Heathcote is the Studio and Workshops Coordinator at Jilamara Arts and Craft at Milikapiti, Melville Island in Australia's Northern Territory. In this interview, Will talks about the artists featured in the 2021 Japingka exhibition.
Dymphna is one of Jilamara’s senior artists. She's been working at the art centre for a long time. These days she spends a lot of time in Darwin due to health reasons, but she still comes out here to see family and comes to the art centre to paint. Dymphna has a very distinct geometric Jilamara design. Jilamara in Tiwi means body paint design, and all those geometric mark-making styles are derived from ceremonial body painting. Each person has a unique Jilamara that's based on family traditions. Dymphna's art is really unique, and she's become really well-known for that beautiful square Jilamara design.
Timothy is probably one of the most well-known artists working at Jilamara. He's very successful. He does the Kulama designs, and he's very well known for them. They're very striking paintings, and I think people are really engaged by them. We sell them to collectors all over the world. Timothy usually does large scale gestural paintings in ochre. He's had a lot of success in the last couple of years. About 10 years ago, he won the Telstra NATSIAA award. He had a massive show at GOMA in Brisbane that same year. More recently, he was shortlisted for Wynne Prize and the National Works on Paper award in Mornington, and he had his work acquired as part of that award. He has a show coming up at Michael Ray Gallery in Berlin this March.
Raelene Kerinauia Liddy
Raelene has a really beautiful, fine-detailed style of doing gentle Jilamara. She's been here longer than anyone. I think she was here working when it was just screen printing and an adult education centre. She was here for the transition into an art centre. She's been a constant fixture the whole time, and she's a big part of the screen printing program. Screen printing had a big hiatus here. It was big in the late '80s and early '90s, and then it got shut down in favour of the painting studios. Then in 2018, the organisation started screen printing back up again. Raelene chose to be part of getting the program going again. She also has a really great painting practice. She was a finalist in the Telstra NATSIAAs last year, and I think one of the only Tiwi finalists.
Jacinta has been a member of the art centre for some time. She works across the street at the shop and doesn't paint all the time. Every now and then, she'll come over and do a few canvases. She's been doing that for many years. She's got a really interesting style Jilamara. It is quite beautiful.
Nancy Marie Kerinauia
Nancy is one of the younger members. She's just been painting for a couple of years. She's in her late twenties and comes from a strong family of artists. Her auntie, Raelene Kerinauia, has been an artist at Jilamara since the 1980s. Nancy is really enthusiastic, has a meticulous, fine-detailed style of doing Jilamara, the dots and geometric designs. She clearly has a really bright future, I think. She's travelled to a few big events like Tarnanthi in 2019 in Adelaide. Nancy is an up-and-coming, emerging artist.
Raymond was quite a successful artist in the 1990s. His work is included in the National Gallery of Victoria collection. He did quite well, and then he had a hiatus from making art for a long time. He came back to Jilamara maybe four or five years ago, and he's been working consistently ever since. Raymond is a very handy person. He works here at the centre, helping around the place. He's a great personality. People call him Van Damme (after Jean-Claude Van Damme) because he's very fit. He's well known for his hunting skills. He'll say g'day to any visitor. He's very charismatic and has very long dreadlocks. If people come to Milikapiti, they will get to meet him pretty quick smart. He usually brings them straight to the art centre.
Phillip has only recently started painting with us. He's in his thirties, and he is a really exciting artist. He's made some really beautiful paintings over the last year. These are mainly using the Kayimwagakimi comb, that ironwood comb. He started off learning to carve from senior carver Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri but really found his way with painting, and he's been running with that ever since. He's mostly painting now. He did a lot of looking at older artwork in the Muluwurri Museum collection housed here at Jilamara Arts in Milikapiti. All the artists are encouraged to go and look at the older work. We have many publications here that Jilamara artists and managers have contributed to in written word and pictures over the years. We often go onto our database and print out photos of people's previous paintings. Everyone enjoys looking at old photos. We also have a lot of photo albums here at the art centre that cover the last 30 years. You'll see people coming in and looking through them. We find these albums and the old images in the collection are a source of inspiration for everybody.
Barbara is an amazing painter. She's not hugely prolific. She works on her paintings for a long, long time. She's just finished a beautiful large one. She does really fine linear dots over a brush background. They're very popular. We usually have a little bit of a waiting list for her work because she takes her time with them.
Michelle is one of the part-time staff here. She helps with artwork cataloguing. She works three days a week. She is a very strong female voice here. She was the president of the art centre for a couple of years. She has a really nice Jilamara style of painting using the Tiwi ironwood comb. Michelle has been doing quite well in a career sense. She's mainly been in group shows, like the Japingka one. There's definitely a growing interest in her work.
Jonathon is our resident political artist. He has a really unique style. He just did a project with Artspace in Sydney called 52 Artists 52 Actions. It was an Instagram-based project. You can see a lot of that on Instagram, under the 52artists handle. Jonathon will take old anthropological pictures of Tiwi people and repaint them in ochre. Recent history has seen a strong Catholic presence on the Tiwis, and missionaries have been here for many years. Jonathon adopts some Christian imagery, and then he re-appropriates it. He combines this with interesting abstract dripping of the ochre and techniques like that. He has very strong political views about Indigenous sovereignty and the need for a treaty for the Tiwi people. He has a really interesting political angle on art-making. He writes a lot of poetry, and he is a really fascinating character.
Dino is becoming very popular. He's had two sellout solo exhibitions last year, even during COVID. He's very sought after as a young artist. A lot of galleries want his work. He's very prolific. He has that really beautiful gestural painting style that has been a tradition here at Jilamara for many years. It's almost like two styles happen here. One is the really fine, geometric, Jilamara design. And then some of the artists do these big gestural Kulama design paintings, which are the big circles. The Kulama is the coming of age ceremony, which happens at the end of the wet season, when there's a ring around Japarra, the moon. So at a certain time, when the moon looks a certain way, traditionally, they would hold a Kulama, a coming of age ceremony. Part of that ceremony involves the soaking of yams which are the bush potato. Dino will create these very striking paintings around that theme.
Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri
Patrick is probably the most famous carver here. His father, Paddy Freddy Puruntatameri, was the chief carver here in the 1990s. The carving shed's named after Paddy. He passed away in the early 2000s, but Patrick learned from him and took the reins and now teaches a lot of the young guys how to work with the ironwood. It's a really dense timber. He's the leader of the carving shed, really. Patrick is a very talented man who is well known for his carving, painting and hunting. During bush holidays, all the kids follow him around because he's always got all the good meat and fish. He'll go and get bush meat for our Christmas party. He also goes out with all the young men and gets all the bark and ironwood for the art centre.
Geraldine has painted with the art centre for quite a few years. She doesn't just paint. She also has some lovely limited edition prints. Geraldine is also one of the women here who have chainsaw licenses. She works in the carving shed. It's mostly men down here, but it's great to see Geraldine and Janice gaining experience and confidence. They've made Tutini poles and birds. It's exciting to see some gender diversity in the carving shed.
Brian Farmer Illortaminni
Brian's worked at the art centre for many years. He was a strong member in governance at the art centre, sitting on the executive committee for a very long time. He was a director for ANKA, the Arnhem and top end corporation for art centres. For a long time, he managed the Muluwurri Museum here at the art centre. This is a separate building that houses a historical collection. He had a big part in establishing that back in 2012. These days he spends quite a bit of time in Darwin, but he's still a member of the art center and he brings paintings in now and again. He has a beautiful geometric Jilamara style, using the pwoja comb to create those block-dot areas in his paintings. Pwoja is the word for bone and was used to apply dots to the body, which is another reference to Jilamara, the designs for the body.
Mary Elizabeth Moreen
Mary Elizabeth is one of the chief traditional owners of the land where Jilamara is situated. She's been painting here for quite some years. They call her the Queen of Milikapiti. She's an older artist but still comes down to the art centre and paints. She likes representing some of the old bush medicines, and she uses the Kayimwagakimi comb, that's the ironwood comb used for applying the dots.
Janice Murray Pungautiji
Janice has been working here for many years. She is one of the original artists who were involved at the start of the organisation. Janice does a lot of printmaking, and she is famous for making beautiful prints of birds. Birds are really important to Tiwi people because they were the messengers in the Purukupali creation story. Janice has had a great career. She's one of those people who've been producing a consistent body of work over a long time. She was recently part of a successful exhibition in Melbourne at MARS Gallery along with two other artists from here at Jilamara Arts.
Michelle Pulatuwayu Woody Minnapinni
Michelle Woody is doing really well as an emerging female artist at Jilamara Arts. She won the King & Wood Mallesons Indigenous Art prize last year. She's the current president of the art centre, and she's strong in governance. She's also a part-time arts worker here and manages the Muluwurri Museum. She has had a whole bunch of successes over the last few years. She did the Wesfarmers Indigenous Leadership Program at the National Gallery in Canberra. She did a certificate in conservation at the Grimwade Centre at Melbourne Uni to help with her knowledge of looking after the keeping place here, the museum. She's recently published essays as part of the National Gallery of Victoria's Tiwi publication which is supporting the current exhibition there. Michelle is producing work in a lot of different ways, not just in painting and art-making, but also in her governance work and essay writing.