Spirit in Variation II - ALL NEW WORK
Best of Maningrida

Next Generation

Maningrida Arts & Culture (MAC) is currently witnessing the rise of a younger generation of artists who are establishing themselves as professionals. This exhibition aims at showing the cultural, family and artistic relationships between the current senior Maningrida artists and the next generation of Maningrida stars. Bill Gregory and I have deliberately chosen to include in this show most art forms produced in the region: bark painting, wooden sculpture and fibre art. The diversity of media used by artists reflects the dynamic power of Maningrida modern art.

Passing on artistic skills and cultural knowledge generally happens in a relaxed and informal environment within the family. Children commence learning by observing their parents making art, watching their techniques and learning about the stories related to the artworks. As teenagers, some choose to go through practical training, which consists initially in gathering and preparing materials prior to creating an artwork. For example, I have many times seen young teenage boys helping their fathers to cut barks or to look for trees suitable for making hollow logs. Instead of being assisted by a family member to learn crosshatching, as formerly common, artists now tend to practice their rarrk on Mimihs spirit figures. Artists such as Emmanuel Wurrkidj or Bronwyn Kelly presented in this exhibition began by producing Mimih spirit figure carvings. These first carvings are almost like practice boards where one can experiment with rarrk and test the market response. Great care and effort are put into the making of these first works, which commonly indicate the style quality of rarrk that will eventually be used on bark. What is also interesting about these first works is that one can already see the emergence of an individual style within each artist. Generally, these young artists will move onto painting on bark or hollow log after some months and will start exhibiting promising new work.

Some senior artists such as John Mawurndjul are serious about training their family members as they see the making of art as not only an important cultural statement to be delivered to balandas (non-aboriginal people) but also as a rewarding professional career option. During my time at MAC, I have seen the first works of some of these young men and women who are now exhibiting regularly. The arts centre is also playing an important role in term of encouraging and mentoring younger artists. It is a form of teamwork as the arts centre does not interfere with the tutoring but is liaising with the senior artist to discuss the encouragement and progress of the younger artist.

In this exhibition, there are numbers of interesting family connections between some of the stars and younger artists. For example, senior Burarra artist Tommy Gondorra Steele has taught his daughter Fiona Jin-majinggal Mason how to paint and how to make fish traps in recent years. They both favour the representation of jima jima water lilies and their work, while looking very similar, differs in the palette of yellow and in some of the compositions. Fiona Jin-majinggal only started to exhibit last year but has already successfully participated in a few group shows. Still in the field of painting, it is impossible not to mention the pivotal roles of John Mawurndjul and of his late brother Jimmy Njiminjuma in tutoring and mentoring several family members. Mawurndjul first taught his eldest daughter Anna Wurrkidj and wife Kay Lindjuwanga, who are now both established artists. He is now tutoring his younger daughters Josephine Wurrkidj and Semeria Wurrkidj. His influence on younger artists does not end there as he also inspired nephew Emmanuel Wurrkidj to take up painting. Emmanuel Wurrkidj started to work and make mimih spirits in late 2004. I was immediately amazed by the quality of his work right from the start. The almost orange dominant in his art and the fluidity of the movements of the four colours used for his rarrk were reminiscent of John?s work although quite different and already showing a distinctive individual touch. After talking to both Emmanuel and John, I discovered that Emmanuel had been watching his uncle from a distance but had never formally sat with him to learn how to paint.

Emmanuel concentrates exclusively on representing Dilebang, which is for him the most sacred place in his country. His work has already been noticed by the art world as he was selected for the 23rd NATSIAA in 2006 and just had some of his work prominently featured in London .

Irenie Ngalinba and Aileena Lamanga are the daughters of the late Jimmy Njiminjuma who passed away in 2004. Ngalinba was taught how to paint by Njiminjuma who was a very influential artist within the modern Kuninjku art movement. She brought her first works to MAC in late 2001 when she was only 22 years of age. Not long after bringing her first paintings, Ngalinba started to make larger works, showing great confidence in her ability to paint and to manage larger compositions. Her repertoire of subjects for a young artist is quite varied and mirrors that of her father. After holding her first solo show in 2006, she was selected for this year Xstrata Emerging Artists Art Awards held at the Queensland Art Gallery. She is not only on a trajectory with her own career but is also managing to teach and tutor several family members including her husband Elyssa Cameron, brother Seymour Wulida and sister Aileena Lamanga. In this exhibition, both Elyssa Cameron and Aileena Lamanga are well represented with some major works. Like her sister, Lamanga concentrates on depicting the power emanating from Kurruldurl site where she and her family reside. In her paintings titled wak wak crow dreaming, she has depicted the crow totem ancestor called Djimarr. The rarrk, or abstract crosshatching, on these works represents the design for Djimarr. Today this Being exists in the form of a rock, which is permanently submerged at the bottom of Kurruldurl Creek. Elyssa Cameron, Ngalinba?s husband is a Rembarrnga man from the Bununggu clan. Rembarrnga and Kuninjku people have close associations, contiguous country and sometimes intermarry. Elyssa started to paint in 2003. His first paintings were in the style of Ngalinba?s and of the same subjects but he is now depicting his own stories such as the waterhole at Bulukaduru, an important site for his people.

In the field of timber sculpture, Samson Bonson who has been under the apprenticeship of Crusoe Kurddal is now an accomplished carver. Like Kurddal, he favours representation of dotted mimihs figures. His double headed mimih spirit figure is an astonishing sculpture, showing not only his skills as a carver but also his creativity and humour.

Fibre art has always been strong in the Maningrida region. In recent years, Marina Murdilnga daughter of Mick Kubarkku has invented a new fibre representation of yawkyawk young woman with a fish tail. These are flat woven figures made from pandanus with a bamboo frame. Using the knotting technique traditionally used for making bags, Murdilnga plays with colours to create patterns within each section of the body of the yawkyawk. This new form of fibre sculpture has inspired other artists such as Frewa Bardaluna who is also showing some works in this exhibition. Bardaluna, an accomplished traditional weaver has only started to make sculptures this year but is already impressing collectors with her tight weave and fantastic colour combinations. The revival of making of fish traps started in 2002 in Maningrida and senior fish trap makers George Ganyjibala and Jack Maranbarra have led the way in teaching their wives and family members how to make fish traps from jungle vine. Today, many Burarra weavers are making fish traps, reminiscent of an ancient tradition combined with contemporary ideas. Fish traps come in many different shapes, sizes and colours as sometimes artists use pandanus rather than jungle vine in their manufacture.

By drawing comparisons and indicating connections between established and emerging artists this exhibition hopes to highlight the dynamism and inventiveness of contemporary Maningrida art. The works presented by the new generation of artists are already showing the energy, talent and hard work required to sustain a brilliant future. Many of these artists are still young and will assuredly become prominent figures in Maningrida?s art history.

Apolline Kohen Director
Maningrida Arts Director October 2007