Betty Bundamurra On Set in Kalumburu

During our recent (July 2015) field trip to Kalumburu, the DRS team was excited to once again catch up with Visual Arts Leadership Program (VALP) participant Betty Bundamurra. The Kira Kiro Art Centre currently doesn’t have anyone employed as full-time coordinator and in the meantime Betty has taken on the task of running the daily Art Centre operations; she is predictably the first to arrive and the last to leave. It is immediately apparent upon entering the studio that Betty runs a tight ship; grouped by size, cleaned brushes sit on counter tops ready for action and rows of neatly stacked containers containing mixed pigments are arranged and labeled by artist names. The area of the shed designated as the ‘Gallery’ space is a credit to Betty’s organisational skills and keen eye for composition, the works are carefully hung in a way that showcases each of the artists equally and beneath most of the works are her carefully handwritten labels.

We had the Indigenous Community Stories (ICS) film crew along with us in Kalumburu with the intention of recording the personal histories and artistic practices of the Kira Kiro Art Centre artists. Everybody watched the crew setting up all their professional recording equipment feeling somewhat daunted, however Betty valiantly volunteered to pave the way and be interviewed first. Turning out to be a natural in front of the camera, she proceeded to eloquently talk of her life growing up - describing the elements and inspiration behind her painting The Mangrove Spirits, talking about the artwork she was currently working on and her motivation for painting in general. She shared with us a subject close to her heart, that of the importance of keeping culture alive by passing it on to future generations. She then poignantly emphasized this as she read aloud a poem she had written titled To our Elders. Betty previously admitted to nerves yet unflinchingly sure of hand, she appeared unfazed as the crew filmed her whilst painting.   

No doubt emboldened by Betty’s example, other artists followed suit and the interviews at the art centre went well. Any requests from the crew for assistance in the form of artwork presentation and display was efficiently seen to by Betty, easels and art shed hanging apparatus (blu tak) appearing at the ready as needed.

Often pushed to the fore by the other artists as their spokeswoman Betty is incredibly modest; she’s sure to give credit where it’s due and will always helpfully refer you to the appropriate person to talk about subjects she’s not culturally authorized to speak for. Thanks to her facilitation, a quick trip to the coastal site of Murragurra was organized with Betty swiftly grabbing the appropriate paints, brushes, and canvases for artists to take along. We were also lucky to be given a guided tour of some powerful rock art by the appropriate custodian Dennis Bundamurra, thanks to Betty’s assistance. No doubt sure that she would handle things sensitively, Betty’s fellow artists were content to let her talk for them about two separate collaborative artworks undertaken in Kalumburu involving over 10 artists. By the third day of filming and well in her stride, Betty took us down to the edge of town and pointed out the surrounding hills and landmarks, filled with pride for her country and culture. She even invited us to watch her and the other women after-hours coaching young girls on traditional dance techniques, which was a great joy privilege to witness.                 

This week, Betty will be travelling to Darwin for her fourth consecutive year, representing the artists of Kalumburu by working at the Kira Kiro Art Centre stall at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. She is such a passionate and articulate spokeswoman for the art centre, we’re sure she’ll do the rest of the artists proud by promoting their artworks and increasing outsider awareness of this group of exceptionally talented women.  

On behalf of the DRS team I’d like to throw out a big thanks to Betty Bundamurra ‘our woman on the ground’ in Kalumburu for all her help and for making our field trip such a success!