Irene Entata: Painted ceramics

 

Three painted terracotta pots by Arrernte–Luritja artist Irene Entata depict three distinct periods in Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira’s life, including the sad circumstances of his death.

One of the foremost artists of the Hermannsburg Potters, Irene Entata (1946–2014), is known internationally for her unique painted ceramics. Much of her art fondly depicts a time that she referred to as the ‘Mission Days’, when the Central Desert community of Hermannsburg — situated among the rolling hills of the MacDonnell Ranges, west of Alice Springs — was run by the Lutheran mission during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Entata’s pots often show the white buildings of the missionary precinct, such as the Strehlow house (owned by the German anthropologist and linguist Carl Strehlow) and the old school and church. Although many recall the strictness and cruelty of the missionaries, some older Aboriginal Christians, including Entata, saw the mission as providing structure and purpose to the lives of local people and giving greater social cohesion to the wider community.

Among the most important works Entata produced were her pots and paintings of Albert Namatjira, revealing an Arrernte perspective on the revered Australian artist. As a girl, Entata remembered seeing Namatjira painting with his sons, along with the Pareroultja brothers (Otto, Reuben and Edwin) and Richard Moketarinja.1 After attending the Hermannsburg school, where she drew and did some plasticine modelling, Entata became a health worker and cleaner before making her first pots at Tjamankura with her sister, Virginia Rontji, in 1990. The three works featured here, made a decade into her practice as a ceramist, chronicle distinct periods in Albert Namatjira’s life, including the sad circumstances of his death.

Albert Namatjira droving

Irene Entata, Arrernte/Luritja people, Australia 1946–2014; Hermannsburg Potters, Australia est.1990 / Albert Namatjira droving 2001 / Earthenware, hand-built terracotta clay with underglaze colours and applied decoration, leather / 53 x 36cm (diam.) (complete) / Purchased 2019. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Irene Mbitjana Entata/Copyright Agency

Albert Namatjira droving 2001 depicts a young Albert droving cattle around Gilbert Spring, a water site at the base of the Krichauff Ranges, west of Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and south of Tnorala (Gosses Bluff), where wildflowers grow abundantly in season and food is in good supply for cattle. Across Australia, many Aboriginal men were heavily involved in the cattle industry. Boys were frequently sent out to work as drovers and stock hands from the age of 14, and their droving skills became a source of pride as they reached adulthood. Here, Entata shows Albert among the other Aboriginal men droving cattle and sitting yarning atop cattle yard fences, surrounded by their Arrernte country in bloom.

Rex and Albert painting in Palm Valley

Irene Entata, Arrernte/Luritja people, Australia 1946–2014; Hermannsburg Potters, Australia est.1990 / Rex and Albert painting in Palm Valley 2001 / Earthenware, hand-built terracotta clay with underglaze colours and applied decoration, leather / 50 x 29cm (diam.) (complete) / Purchased 2019. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Irene Mbitjana Entata/Copyright Agency

Rex and Albert painting in Palm Valley 2001 features Albert painting alongside his mentor, Rex Battarbee, at Palm Valley, nestled within the ranges behind Mount Hermannsburg. This scene imagines the beginning of the Arrernte art movements from Ntaria, when Albert accompanied Battarbee on a painting expedition through the Western MacDonnell Ranges. Albert exchanged his skills as a cameleer and guide for painting lessons from Battarbee, and from this six-week expedition followed a lifelong friendship. They shared a single tent and used camels to transport their swags and painting materials. The composition of the painting on this pot is strikingly similar to another work in the Collection by Entata, titled Albert and Rex painting 2003, in which a seated Albert paints the ranges as Battarbee stands behind, pointing out elements of the landscape.

The events leading to Albert’s death

Irene Entata, Arrernte/Luritja people, Australia 1946–2014; Hermannsburg Potters, Australia est.1990 / The events leading to Albert’s death 2001 / Earthenware, hand-built terracotta clay with underglaze colours and applied decoration / 44 x 35cm (diam.) (complete) / Purchased 2019. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Irene Mbitjana Entata/Copyright Agency

The events leading to Albert’s death 2001 recounts the tragic final pieces of Albert Namatjira’s life story. Although he became the first Aboriginal person to be granted Australian citizenship in 1957, enabling him to move to Alice Springs and seek better access to services and economic markets, he faced continued discrimination. Despite being one of the country’s most renowned artists, he spent his later years living in poverty. Prevented from buying a house, he lived with members of his extended family in corrugated iron shanties in the creek bed at Morris Soak. As a citizen, he could purchase alcohol; without a house, however, he had nowhere to store it, making it accessible to family members for whom drinking was prohibited. One night, fellow artist Henoch Raberaba took a bottle of rum from Albert’s car and killed a young woman in a drunken rage. Convicted of supplying alcohol to Aboriginal people, Albert was jailed at Papunya for three months. He suffered a heart attack shortly after his release and passed away in hospital in Alice Springs a few days later.

Irene Entata’s pot captures this story with an image of Albert sitting in the creek bed drinking alcohol surrounded by family members. On the opposite side he is incarcerated behind bars, and the lid features a moulded replica of his headstone, made by members of the Hermannsburg Potters in 1994. Following a renewed interest in Albert’s life and work during the early 1990s, the Potters renovated his previously nondescript grave: now, a large slab of white stone from his country is inlaid with a landscape painted onto ceramic tiles, inspired by one of his paintings of the Western MacDonnell Ranges. His granddaughter, Elaine Kngwarria Namatjira, led the project, with assistance from Elizabeth Jane Moketarinja and Kay Panangka Tucker, ensuring their important Elder had a fitting memorial.

Bruce Johnson McLean is former Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA.

Endnote
1 Artist’s statement in Jennifer Isaacs, Hermannsburg Potters: Aranda Artists of Central Australia, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000, p.100.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

Featured image detail: Irene Entata Rex and Albert painting in Palm Valley 2001

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In Daniel Boyd’s works, Australian history is re-told

 

Daniel Boyd, born in Cairns, Queensland, is an artist of both Aboriginal and South Sea Islander heritage, whose works often deal with the complexity of the history of South Sea Islander labour in Queensland and its legacy. This is one of our state’s most important historical narratives, with some 62 000 labourers brought to Queensland in the early 1860s, initially as slaves, then as low-paid contract workers — particularly on cotton, banana and sugar farms. The heat and humidity of the north, accompanied by the scarcity of white labour and its much higher cost, meant that South Sea Islander and Aboriginal labourers worked under slavery-like conditions to fulfil the requirements of the rapidly expanding agricultural frontier.

Watch: Director Chris Saines CNZM discuss ‘Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN)’

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Daniel Boyd with Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN) (detail) 2017 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

As the white towns and settlements grew, the presence of thousands of these black labourers was perceived as menacing by the north’s white citizens, and with growth in the white labour force and the push of newly formed unions, legislation was drafted to forcibly remove the South Sea Islanders from Queensland. In 1901, the White Australia Policy was enacted, and over the following decade, a program of mandatory, and often arbitrary, repatriation took place. Following the program, very few South Sea Islanders remained, mostly those who had married a local.

Boyd’s paintings, reworked from historical source imagery, are covered in transparent, resin-like dots that become a lens through which the world is viewed and distorted — a comment on information known and unknown, and the processes that have rendered certain histories knowable and unknowable. His compositions leave large parts of histories metaphorically erased, and only small pieces of knowledge — in the form of tiny dots — are retained for the viewer to interpret and reconstruct, forming an imperfect ‘whole’. Boyd’s works are a visual representation of the destruction of the histories and cultures of Indigenous Australian and South Sea Islander peoples throughout colonial history.

‘Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN)’

In this commission, Boyd has recreated a scene from the Hambledon plantation, a sugar farm not far from Cairns. In 1888, the Hambledon had 900 acres of planted sugar cane, and employed 32 white, 29 Chinese, 6 Javanese, and 176 South Sea Islander workers. The land clearing was done first by Chinese labourers, and the field work was continued by the Islanders. For their efforts, the Chinese and Javanese were paid £1/5 per week. White workers received up to £4 per week; the Islanders, just £6/5 per year.

Two men and two children standing in the fields of Hambledon Sugar Plantation, Cairns, c.1891 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
Labourer working on the Hambledon Sugar Plantation, Cairns, c.1890-1900 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
Daniel Boyd, Kudjla/Gangalu people, Australia b.1982 / Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN) 2017 / Oil, charcoal and archival glue on polyester / Purchased 2017 with funds from anonymous donors through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Daniel Boyd

Watch: Daniel Boyd introduces ‘Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN)’

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Boyd has reworked an historical photograph in which a white overseer stands among the black workers in a cane field. The artist has said of the image that ‘the tension is palpable’ as the white owner or overseer poses near centre field, while the black labourers stand with their tools, engaged in field work. The story of the Hambledon plantation deeply affects many South Sea Islander families in the north. Today, the area of the plantation spans the Cairns suburb of Edmonton, and on the original site sits an amusement park named ‘Sugarworld’. Originally conceived by sugar industry giants CSR, but now owned by the Cairns City Council, the park houses waterslides, swimming pools and bars.

The influence of Australian history on Aboriginal and South Sea Islander people is evident, in Boyd’s painting, a white plantation overseer watches, hands on hips, over Islander labourers whose hands are likewise occupied by tools and implements. In a space that tells Australian histories through art, this work — which comments on our often brutal past — allows us all to celebrate and acknowledge the significant contribution of Aboriginal and South Sea Islander peoples in the making of this country.

Bruce Johnson McLean is former Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA

Through the QAGOMA Foundation, this commission has been supported by an anonymous donor, without whom this history might have remained untold. This commission can be viewed as part of the Gallery’s Australian art display in the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries, Queensland Art Gallery.

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Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this community.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

Featured image detail: Daniel Boyd Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN) 2017

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Michael Cook introduces us to his dream-journey

 

Michael Cook’s photographs have become well known for a whimsical and unique interplay of surrealism and political potency. The ‘Broken Dreams’ series 2010 was one of the Queensland Indigenous photographer’s most important breakthrough works, produced in the first year of his artistic practice. Coming from a commercial background, Cook had long entertained moving into art photography and had been incubating many ideas before his career change. When he took the leap into contemporary art practice it was marked by a rapid outpouring of work, with six major photographic series completed within his first two years, some of which — ‘Through My Eyes’ 2010, ‘Undiscovered’ 2010, ‘Broken Dreams’ 2010 and ‘Civilised’ 2012 — are among the most iconic image suites in contemporary Australian art.

This rapid yet resolved release of work allowed for a clear view of Cook’s practice from its inception, something not usually evident until several years into most artists’ careers. In Cook’s case, it gave a window into another world — an all-Aboriginal world — where Indigenous protagonists play every role, from the coloniser to the colonised, and from first contact to the present day.

RELATED: Visions of femininity

In ‘Broken Dreams’, Cook introduces us to one of his dreamlike narrative sequences in which he implicates a young Aboriginal woman. The woman imagines what life was like for the female British colonists she encounters along the frontier; she fantasises about being in the shoes, and clothes, of those at the other end of the social class spectrum. The first two images in the series of ten depict the woman in London along the River Thames in front of Westminster and Tower Bridge, both symbols of the power and might of the British Empire. Here she projects an air of being free, resplendent and important. In the third image she poses in front of a tall ship, implying the start of her voyage to Australia. As the series unfolds, the woman is successively disrobed — her Victorian dress replaced by ropes that appear to shackle and restrain her — in scenes that connote peace, war, religious indoctrination, exploration, bondage, incarceration and perhaps death, as her fantasies unravel and dreams are broken. ‘As her journey progresses, so does her realisation that their culture is not her culture’, writes Cook. ‘As time passes, she sees the impact these new settlers are having on her people.’1

Michael Cook ‘Broken Dreams’ series

Michael Cook, Bidjara people, Australia b.1968 / ‘Broken Dreams’ series 2010 / Gift of Andrew Clouston through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Michael Cook

Throughout the series, the woman is accompanied by a single rainbow lorikeet. Its presence is slightly unnerving, its role never entirely clear; like the wild lorikeet, its intentions are hard to read. Cook’s dream-journey explores the tension between the freedom of the colourful bird and the muted dresses and dreams of its female human counterpart. The lorikeet gradually reveals itself as the embodiment of the woman’s spirit, a symbol of the freedom for which she yearns but can never grasp — this new colonial life is being built for her by powers half a world away. ‘Dreams broken, hopes replaced with despair, she begins to shed her newly-clothed skin and returns to her roots to find freedom — the connection back to her land.’2

In the final image, the heroine is pictured in a field of tall grass, naked save for the heavy rope — now wrapped around her arms and neck — held taut above her head by her parrot accomplice. Cook describes this image as a ‘freedom’ and a return to her country. Yet her return is countered by the weight of her ropes, in places doubled over as if tied like a noose. The lorikeet appears to be at once carrying her away and also tightening the rope around her neck. Although her dreams of grandeur are dashed, another more devastating realisation occurs in the final image, as the bound Aboriginal protagonist realises the impossibility of returning to a pre-colonial world. Her every dream of escape is broken.

And yet the lorikeet — representing her spirit,her hope, her dreams of or for a better place — still flies.

Bruce Johnson McLean is former Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 Michael Cook [artist’s statement],<https://www.michaelcook.net.au/projects/broken-dreams>, viewed September 2018
2 Cook [artist’s statement]

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs on the QAGOMA Blog are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

Feature image detail: Michael Cook ‘Broken Dreams’ series 2010
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Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey: Taking his culture and stories to the world

 

Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey (1924–85) was born on Mornington Island before European missionaries and colonial squatter-settlers established a strong presence in the Gulf of Carpentaria. His mother, Kuthakin (later renamed Minnie), selected a small stretch of coast fringed with pandanus palms to give birth, a place known as Gara Gara (Karrakarra), near Goobirah Point (Kupare). He was born around September, when the pandanus tree was in full fruit, and the event is chronicled in Goobalathaldin’s Birth Day 1984, one of his largest and most important paintings, in which he is held aloft by a family member and presented to his kin and Country.

Traditionally, Lardil people took the name of their birth site, so Roughsey was called Gara Gara for the first few years of his life. The family lived a traditional lifestyle until Roughsey was around eight years old, when he was taken to the newly established Presbyterian mission. Although the mission was adjacent to the community, boys were only allowed to visit their families twice a week and on special occasions. Around this time, Roughsey was given the name ‘Dick’. His father’s names were Goobalathaldin (meaning ‘deep sea’) and Kiwarbija, which translates loosely as ‘rough seas’. The anglicised form, Roughsey, was given to the family as a surname.

Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey, Lardil people, Australia 1924-1985 / (Women singing Djarada love songs) 1967 / Private collection / © Estate of Dick Roughsey 1967. Licensed by Copyright Agency, 2019

Like many Aboriginal boys, Dick was educated at the mission until his early teenage years, before being sent out to work on cattle stations and later as a deckhand on a supply boat that transported goods from Thursday Island to towns and communities throughout the Gulf. Through these travels, Roughsey made friends and joined ceremony in Yirrkala in Arnhem Land. Importantly, this is also where he first observed artists working on bark paintings.

Apart from a number of isolated examples of bark paintings by Dick’s older brother Lindsay (Burrud), which he made for the anthropologist Norman Tindale in 1960, there was no established tradition on Mornington Island of painting on bark panels. The brothers set about creating their own unique style of painting, distinctive in its use of stark white backgrounds over which traditional Lardil stories are painted using silhouetted figures. Few trees in the southern Gulf were suitable for bark painting, so the artist and pilot Percy Trezise (1923–2005) — with whom Roughsey established a close friendship after the pair met in 1962 — would often cut the barks near his home in Cairns and deliver the panels to Karumba during his weekly DC3 flight service to the town.

Percy Trezise and Dick Roughsey discuss a painting of the Rainbow Serpent with Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, 19 March 1975 / Collection: National Library of Australia / Photograph: Don Edwards/Australian Information Service

Victorian-born Trezise became a pivotal artistic influence on Roughsey. Together they drew up a ten-year plan for Roughsey to become an artist; in the first five years he would paint in a ‘traditional’ style, focusing on his own Lardil stories, before beginning to paint in a Western style. This was likely the first time an Aboriginal person had devised a career plan to become an artist. Trezise helped Roughsey exhibit his work and introduced him to many of his art world contacts. In turn, Roughsey accompanied Trezise on trips through Cape York, acting as a guide and cultural intermediary in documenting numerous rock art galleries scattered throughout the escarpment, and talking to local traditional owners about their sacred stories.

Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey, Lardil people, Australia 1924-1985 / Strange procession passing by (from ‘Jackey Jackey and Kennedy’ series) 1983 / Oil on board / 60 x 90cm / Gift of Barbara Blackman through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 1998 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Dick Roughsey. Licensed by Copyright Agency, 2019
Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey, Lardil people, Australia 1924-1985 / Tribe on the move in the past, Cape York 1983 / Oil on board / 30 x 40cm / Gift of Simon, Maggie and Pearl Wright through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2015. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Dick Roughsey. Licensed by Copyright Agency, 2019

Roughsey also spent time with Queensland artist Ray Crooke, whom he met when Crooke visited Mornington Island. Crooke helped Roughsey hone his oil painting techniques — which by the mid 1960s were taking on a touch of Paul Gauguin, reflecting Crooke’s influence — and these works were soon shown in a commercial exhibition in Canberra.

Roughsey’s figurative paintings continued to flourish and became popular throughout Queensland. His works often create a sense of including the viewer in the narrative, and this conscious framing conveys something of how Roughsey’s work and life was marked by generosity. Indeed, his paintings invite viewers to look closely and to learn more about Aboriginal traditions, cultural narratives and histories.

Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey and Percy Trezise / Goorialla was in a great rage… (from ‘Rainbow Serpent Illustrations’) 1974 / Synthetic polymer paint / 25.4 x 48cm (framed) / Collection: Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library / © Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey/Copyright Agency, 2019. Estate of Percy Trezise

In the 1970s, Roughsey and Trezise began transferring this knowledge into children’s picture books, a format uniquely suited to Roughsey’s naive, narrative landscapes. His best-known book, The Rainbow Serpent, first published in 1975, is still in print today. For thousands of children and families, it has been an important first encounter with Indigenous Australian culture.

RELATED Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey

From his birth by a beach on a small island in one of Australia’s most isolated areas to his advocacy work in Canberra as the foundation chair of the Aboriginal Arts Board for the Australia Council for the Arts, Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey was an important artist and cultural leader at a time of incredible change. ‘Stories of this Land’ recognises the life and work of this proud Lardil man, who took his people’s culture and stories to the world.

Bruce Johnson McLean is Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA. He is a member of the Wierdi (Wirrid) people of the Birri Gubbi nation of Wribpid (central Queensland).

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Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey: Stories of this Land’ was at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane 30 March until 18 August 2019 and was the first major retrospective celebrating the work and life of Roughsey (1920-1985). 

‘Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey: Stories of this Land’ is a collaboration between Cairns Art Gallery and QAGOMA.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this country.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

Featured image: Dick Roughsey near Laura, North Queensland, 1979 / Collection: National Archives of Australia / © National Archives of Australia 2019
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The full-bodied vessels of the Hermannsburg Potters document their culture

 

Ntaria, the former Lutheran Hermannsburg Mission, located about 130 kilometres west of Alice Springs, is now home to the Hermannsburg Potters. The Arrernte people from this area – inspired by the example of their forebear, Albert Namatjira – are famous for their watercolours of the desert interior of Australia.

When the Arrernte community took responsibility for the mission in 1982, Pastor Nahasson Ungwanaka (an important figure in the community and husband of potter Rahel Ungwanaka) sought to establish livelihoods for his people. Although he had had some experience of modelling clay figures in the early 1970s, he lobbied for more formal instruction in ceramics. This resulted in the 1990 appointment of teacher-potter Naomi Sharp and, later, the establishment of the Hermannsburg Pottery.

Potter: Irene Entata, Arrernte/Luritja people, Australia 1946-2014 / Pottery workshop: Hermannsburg Potters, Australia est. 1990 / Pot: Cows 2000 / Earthenware, hand-built terracotta clay with underglaze colours / 36.5 x 29cm (diam.) / Purchased 2002 with funds derived from the Cedric Powne Bequest / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

The Hermannsburg Potters, all women, developed a distinctive hand-coiled style, often topped with moulded figurative lids. These elements hark back to an earlier period of pottery at Hermannsburg when, in the 1970s, a kiln was installed to produce figures as part of a tourism-based craft industry. The surfaces of the pots are often painted with landscapes in the style of the Hermannsburg School, portraying the spectacular and significant places the artists belong to around Ntaria.

As pottery-making is not a traditional practice for Aboriginal people, the Hermannsburg Potters view their work as an avenue for self-expression – the richly decorated, full-bodied vessels document their culture, their history and their day-to-day lives. Their vibrant, handmade pottery, and in more recent years their paintings on canvas, have been exhibited to worldwide acclaim.

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Bruce McLean is Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA

Feature image detail: Irene Entata’s Pot: Cows 2000 

An enduring art tradition: The Hermannsburg School

 

The Hermannsburg School is an art movement that began at the Lutheran mission of Hermannsburg in Central Australia in the 1930s, inspired by Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira who was born there. Following Namatjira’s early sell-out exhibitions, members of his extended family and his community – most of whom were already making art in some form – became interested in painting. A dynamic group of Arrernte painters emerged to become the first generation of the Hermannsburg School of landscape painting.

RELATED: Read more about AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS ART

Irene Entata, Arrernte/Luritja people, Australia 1946-2014 / Albert and Rex painting 2003 / Synthetic polymer paint on linen / 90 x 120.5cm / Purchased 2003. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Irene Entata

First generation of the Hermannsburg School

Albert Namatjira’s first student was Walter Ebatarinja, an owner of the country around Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and husband of Namatjira’s niece – this kinship to country and family meant he would be taught first. Soon after, Namatjira’s sons Enos, Oscar, Ewald, Keith and Maurice, and son-in-law Benjamin Landara, would join him on painting trips. By 1950, community members including Otto, Edwin and Reuben Pareroultja; Henoch and Herbert Raberaba; Claude Pannka; Gustav Malbunka; Adolf Inkamala; and Richard Moketarinja joined the movement. Cordula Ebatarinja, Namatjira’s niece and wife of Walter Ebatarinja, also joined in 1950, becoming one of the first Aboriginal women artists recognised by the art world.

When Namatjira moved from the mission to Alice Springs, many of his family and painting mates followed, looking for greater access to economic markets and essential services, outside of the control of the mission. Unable to access accommodation and other basic services, they lived at Morris Soak, a fringe camp outside of the town, which still exists. The unique styles developed by many of these first-generation artists have been retained as a family style by their descendants.

Following years of exploitation, the artists formed Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands Art Centre), a place for the children and grandchildren of Namatjira and his contemporaries to continue this important Aboriginal and Australian art tradition.

Bruce McLean is former Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA

Clara Inkamala, Arrernte people, Australia b.1954 / (Emu and chicks) 2002 / Synthetic polymer paint on Belgian linen / 51.1 x 70.5cm / Purchased 2003 with funds from Margaret Mittelheuser AM through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Clara Inkamala

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Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this country.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

Feature image detail: Clara Inkamala’s (Emu and chicks) 2002

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