Warmun & Waringarri Exhibition Field Trip 2017

In late October DRS hit the road for four weeks of intensive field trips, calling in on Art Centres working on commissioned artworks destined for the February 2019 Desert River Sea exhibition. AGWA Curator of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art, Carly Lane, was on board for first hand insights into the conceptual background, direction and making of the new works as we observed, assisted and interviewed artists in Warmun, Kununurra, Balgo and Fitzroy Crossing.             

First stop was Warmun Art Centre where we arrived just in time to catch the weekly artist meeting and hear reports of recent exhibitions and activities. We were pleased to witness the excitement gathering around the animations component of the artwork commission with a special community ‘movie night’ preview screening planned for the following week.

The staff were eager to share with us progress on the artworks and led us to the studio where we were delighted by sneak peaks at wonderful new works by key Warmun artists including Betty Carrington, Lindsay Malay, Mabel Juli, Mary Thomas, Nancy Nodea, Phyllis Thomas, Shirley Purdie and Rusty Peters. Our appetites well and truly whetted we were keen for some in depth discussions with artists.

As can happen on field trips, we were faced with a wrinkle in the schedule in the form of a closed Art Centre due to ‘Sorry Business’. Fortunately, we were more than compensated by being afforded the opportunity to explore behind the scenes in the community collection and exhibition reserve.

The following day was met with an early obstacle in the form of a rogue scrub bull loitering directly outside our accommodation at the Warmun Roadhouse. After negotiating a path past the beast on tip-toe to the safely of our trusty vehicle we headed back to the art centre. We were officially welcomed with a smoking ceremony and the Warmun artists, showing no obvious signs that the 40+ degree heat affected enthusiasm were generous with their time in chatting with us about their lives and art practices. Each artist stated a preference where they wanted to be interviewed, and so we followed the lead of Lindsay Malay in the studio, Rusty Peters while painting under the bough shelter, Nancy Nodea under the red house, Shirley Purdie catching the breeze on the upstairs media lab veranda, Mabel Juli at home in her front yard and Mary Thomas next to one of her paintings hanging in the gallery.

A quick lunch trip to the Roadhouse with Rusty Peters turned into a sightseeing tour of Warmun community with running commentary by Rusty, the tour complete with a photo opportunity of the infamous fridge in the tree leftover from the 2011 flood.    

Enjoying the weekend drive onwards to Kununurra through one of the most scenic stretches of the Great Northern Highway we indulged in a quick detour to the not so well kept secret waterhole of Molly Springs, acting as a lovely welcome to Mirriwoong country.

Arriving at Waringarri Art Centre first thing Monday morning we quickly got the inside update on new artistic developments from their friendly staff and by exploring what was on display in the gallery. We were treated to a sneak peak into the community collection room and Dora Griffiths proudly showed us the finishing touches to her newly curated exhibition ‘Our Legacy’ on display in the Dawang Gallery.

Back outside under the veranda we were warmly greeted by artists and exuberantly waved over to the studio to be shown works in progress. Of particular fascination to us was the evidence of new explorations with ceramics; moulds, plates, figurines, decorations and wearable artworks filling the back half of the studio. Jan Griffiths was keen to show us her ceramic works, presenting her portfolio folder while telling us all about her recent exhibitions and workshops, the highlight being when she allowed us a glimpse at her artistic process diary.

An artist meeting was called to update us on the commission projects’ progress and follow-up interviews were arranged with artists. It was fascinating to witness the ideas, reasoning and process of negotiations between artists deliberating on a collaborative artwork during concept phase.  

Later, taking the chance to do a quick self-guided art tour of Kununurra including the courthouse, the bush medicine mural at the health centre and the giant bronze boab nuts at Coolibah estate impressed on us just how talented and skilled at public art projects the Waringarri artists are.

Facing the long drive back from Kununurra to Broome we made sure to stop at Halls Creek and touch base with Yarliyil Art Centre where we met manager Kevin Kelly and were introduced to new and emerging artists working in the studio there. Another 300km further down the road we stopped in on Mangkaja Arts despite being scheduled to be back there in two weeks’ time, we weren’t disappointed. Fortuitously, we arrived when Studio Coordinator Wes Maselli was revealing a suite of old works on paper from the Mangkaja collection that had not seen the light of day in years, we also got a sneak peek at an impressive experimental prototype painted paper scroll by Sonia Kurarra. Needless to say, we were looking forward to coming back to Mangkaja!

With a week at home in between field trips, we were soon back on the road…