Friday, May 27, 2011

Speaking in colour: Ivy Pareroultja and Lenie Namatjira in Newcastle

Speaking in colour: Lenie Namatjira and Ivy Pareroultja in Newcastle
 Ivy Pareroultja (left) and Lenie Namatjira with the Ntaria Suite, Newcastle Region Art Gallery May 2011
When I started ARTCAST NEWcastLE  I considered entries  blogorative-  my own prerogative, and I had to be motivated to  respond to an exhibition or to add a footnote to H2 reviews in Saturday’s Newcastle Herald. And people have asked after the  Western Arrernte artists visit....

Speaking in colour (SiC!) opened at Newcastle Region Art Gallery (NRAG) on March 18th  with public programs running throughout April and May. It finishes this Sunday, May 29th.  SiC gave me a chance  to get behind the scenes at the gallery and  I appreciated the opportunity to curate the show which, while a compromise to  the collection, still held up as an exhibition of diversity and colour ( I had originally  proposed some works from other private collections).

At the opening, I looked at the crowd and couldn’t see any colour to speak of, or to.  But the walls were alight with it, and several lectures and discussions in the gallery provided  ample opportunities to tease out, in a painterly and historical  way, some different approaches and generic similarities in  colour use and media from  the communities represented. 

The crown in SiC was The Ntaria [Hermannsburg] Suite, purchased by the gallery in 2010 and shown for the first time as a series in Newcastle. The watercolours  by Walter & Cordula Ebatarinja, Herbert & Henoch  Raberaba, Oscar & Ewald Namatjira, Otto & Edwin Pareroultja, Adolf Inkamala & Richard Moketarinja came  from the estate of TGH Strehlow (read the short catalogue essay  for more info).

In short, the colour and freshness of the watercolours (1946-1953) is outstanding (they’ll be back in storage soon, retaining their saturation). Importantly, it was an opportunity to get descendents of some of the original artists to visit Newcastle and see the works first hand. I congratulate the gallery for taking the opportunity to host Lenie Namatjira and  Ivy Pareroultja (Oscar and Edwin’s daughters, respectively) from Ngurratjuta Iltja Ntjarra “Many Hands” Art Centre in Alice Springs. 

What did they do? What did they think and feel, seeing their parents and grandfather/great uncle Albert on the walls in Newcastle? It’s not a first, as they have been amongst the travellers supporting the BIG hART production of the play, NAMATJIRA. When I contacted Ngurratjuta in October last year they volunteered the possibility of artists  painting in the gallery; their most recent exhibition, Echoes in the Landscape which they visited had brought generations of Hermannsburg  watercolourists together  in at Flinders University Gallery in Adelaide (curated by Alison French).

It was clear to NRAG and to the artists that their participation was always going  to be a matter of choice on the day. Two hours, two days running, making watercolours in the gallery in front of the Ntaria Suite. A crowd gathered. I spoke a little, Iris Bendor from Ngurratjuta spoke a bit, Lenie said a few words, both women painted. Some people approached the artists, had some questions. Day two was more informal, with lots of kids doing watercolour with the Art Cart program. There were some return visitors, including members of the local Indigenous community, some of whom had never visited the gallery before (a lunch for the artists at the Wollotuka Institute had made some introductions).  

There’s always the discomfort factor, but probably more so for the audience, who grapple with their own concerns– I suspect, and recall from similar events in the past, that the silence (of the artists) which is so…uncomfortable in white culture (and I prefer ‘white’ to non-Indigenous, like black), does not imply the same awkwardness, necessarily. Half the time I am guessing;  but when they finished working on day one, Lenie put her hand on her breast and told me how happy she felt, having painted next to her father’s and grandfather’s paintings, with all the people…
 Lenie Namatjira with her own work,  Newcastle Region Art Gallery May 2011
Personally I had the pleasure of hearing after and sending affection to friends from Ikuntji that in some cases I haven’t had proper news of in years. It’s hard to negotiate the communication divide, although mobile phones have helped keep in touch with Tiwi friends.

 Tiwi works in Speaking in colour (l-r) Kitty Kantilla, Pedro Wonaeamirri, Timothy Cook, 2 x Jean Baptiste Newcastle Region Art Gallery 2011 

 Sally Gabori, Jan Billycan, Daniel Walbidi Newcastle Region Art Gallery 2011