Sally Gabori’s ‘Makarrki’ is layered with memories of home


Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori was born by a small tidal creek around 1924 on the south side of Bentinck Island, of the South Wellesley Island Group in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Far North Queensland. Her Kayardild language name, Mirdidingkingathi, means ‘born at Mirdidingki’, her country on Bentinck Island, and Juwarnda means ‘dolphin’, her totem.

Gabori began painting in 2005, around the age of eighty, her immediate love of paint, and the full spectrum of colour offered to her, triggered an outpouring of ideas including depicting her country and her ancestral stories. Whilst her works could immediately be recognised as abstraction, on closer inspection, the country, colour and mind’s eye combine to impart to the viewer a real and intimate sense of who Gabori is, and where she is from.

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori ‘Makarrki’

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, Kaiadilt people, Australia b.c.1924-2015 / Makarrki 2008 / Synthetic polymer paint on linen / 197.8 x 453.8cm / Gift of the Estate of Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2017 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda/Copyright Agency

Makarrki 2008 is a major, large-scale painting from a period when Gabori’s technique and confidence developed exponentially. As she continued to paint, Gabori established a unique painting style, where she would lock her brush firmly into her hand and paint with a gestural action initiated by her shoulder. Her highly energetic movements suited painting on larger surfaces and through 2008 many vibrant, tropical toned works were produced in scales between three to six metres in length. Gabori’s paintings of Makarrki are layered with complex memories and intense emotions.

The head of the Makarrki River, at the heart of the northern shore of Bentinck Island, was an important hunting ground and Gabori often recalled the exploits of her ‘brother’ (brother-in-law) Tarurukingathi Kulkitji (Buddy) wrestling with dugongs there. It was also the country of her older brother, Makarrkingathi Dingkarringathi Thuwathu Bijarrb (King Alfred).

DELVE DEEPER: The life and art of Sally Gabori

Although this work, as with many of Gabori’s works, was not directly interpreted by the artist, a number of recurrent symbols and styles are present. At the right is a solid dark oval form, surrounded by bands of colour radiating outward, indicating one of the many small islands at the river mouth, being embraced by lapping water as it races in or out of this great tidal estuary or a dugong creating ripples on the surface of the water as it breaks the surface. To the left is a complex arrangement of geometric forms, most likely indicating the rock-walled fish traps that line the mouth of the river near Gabori’s family’s camp.

The 144 page illustrated publication Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori: Dulka Warngiid / Land of All is available from the QAGOMA Store and online

Makarrki 2008 can be viewed as part of the Gallery’s Australian art display in the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries, Queensland Art Gallery.

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.