Above, from front: Gloria Pannka’s Tjuritja (West MacDonell Ranges, NT); Kevin Namatjira’s Rutjipma (Mt Sonder); the late Mr Tjutjatja Taylor’s Tjuritja.
If you see someone wearing a skirt or scarf that is also a landscape painting in the Hermannsburg watercolour tradition “keep in mind it started with the elders and with Albert Namatjira”. Artist Mervyn Rubuntja was making the point, at the launch of The Namatjira Collection at RAFT Artspace, that this latest foray by the Ngurratjtua artists is the same but different — “it is still landscape painting”.
But it has also become sculpture. The exhibition is offering two experiences of the work. There are the original watercolours, landscape painted in the round, as if you, the viewer, were lying on the floor of a magnificent crater and looking skywards, with grasses, shrubs, trees and ranges rising up around you, reaching towards the infinite blue above.
Left: Mervyn Rubuntja’s Tjuritja.
These images were then transformed into sculptural forms: scanned and printed onto linen/cotton and expertly crafted as limited edition circular skirts. Upscaled in the process, the foreground expands, the sky recedes and there is a heightened sense of invitation, of the viewer being asked to step into the landscape.
Using umbrella armatures RAFT has installed the skirts like a corps de ballet around the gallery. The effect is sculptural, but also anticipates a further transformation of the skirts as wearable art. It is not hard to imagine them animated by living bodies, particularly in a performance capturing many moods of the Tjuritja (West MacDonnell Ranges) landscape so beloved by the painters. Their subtitle for the show expresses this latent sense of dance, or at least movement, in the work: “Inti Ljapa Ljapa Irapakalam, butterfly going round and round.”
The collection was produced under the direction of the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, adding another fine string to their bow in the development of Indigenous textile arts. Shows at RAFT until June 6.
– Kieran Finnane