Journal

Michelle Woody

Senior Artist and President of Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association
-  11th September 2018  -

 

Interview and photography by Colin Puruntatameri

Who inspired you to become an artist?

The people that inspired me were; My partner Nicholas Mario and My relatives.

When did you start to do art?

It all started back when I was working for the dole. Doing my activities at Tiwi Island Training & Employment Board also known as TITEB. My partner encouraged me to start doing some painting. In 2004 I started doing some painting, Jilamara. My partner said. “keep going continue with your art work, you’re probably getting better at it”. Now I’m still doing painting and I’m also a (part time) worker. I still want to do (more) art work.

Is your design more contemporary or traditional?

Yes, is it traditional, because it’s really important in our Tiwi culture. We have to keep the tradition going and keep our culture strong. It’s part of our Tiwi culture and it's part of doing our art work, Jilamara. 

Would you like to inspire someone else, like your daughters?

Yeah hopefully I’ll get my girls involved, especially (my daughter) Sofia. Because she (always) comes to the art centre. She spent most of her life. Close to her mum and dad doing artwork at Jilamara. Hopefully, when she gets older she’ll continue it and follow our footsteps.

 What painting do you like doing the most?

Mostly I like doing traditional Jilamara and also Winga (the sea) is really important to me. Because Winga has all the bush tucker like; sea turtle, stingray, fish, crab. We live off the sea.

What do you think about Jilamara bringing screen-printing back?

It was established in the 80s and (ran throughout) the 90s then it stopped. We decided to ask the government for funding. So that we could get it up and going again. As it was a part of Jilamara. Hopefully, it will continue on in the future.

Do you think screen printing will bring more young people back to the art centre?

Yes, hopefully, we’ll get more young people involved. Especially those that are graduating from school. So that when they come back home they have (more job) opportunities in the art centre.  

Did you ever think that your design would be on clothing?

Hopefully it will be on clothing, because it’s going to be my future ideas. I already did the design, hopefully it will go on the clothing so tourists and customers can buy it too.

Where would you like your artwork to go? Would you like it to go to the AFL team?

Hopefully my design will go to AFL team or fashion, like fashion design with clothing.

What does it mean for you to be working here at Jilamara?

For me, for work here at Jilamara it’s really important to work with our people and engage with other artists and other people also support them.

You see a lot of people coming in and out on contract and other staff members.  What would you like to see happen at Jilamara in the future?

For the future, hopefully we’ll get the younger ones. Many young people, they are walking around now.  They can come in and do work.

And what would you like to see with the NORTH collaboration, with them using your design?

Hopefully it will bring tourists or customers. People from everywhere, from around the world if they see that fabric design on clothing and hopefully they will buy it.

And then with that too, you can see other family members wearing the design?

Yeh, and hopefully I’ll get some family members to wear that design and even for my niece Cassie. She’s doing that really wonderful career and hopefully she’ll model some clothing like fashion and the design from Jilamara and Munupi. That’s where her family is and that’s really where she’s from.

I’ve seen how she worked down in Melbourne, it will be different her working back with our people here on community?

Hopefully it attracts people and tourists if they interested in buying Tiwi clothing and Tiwi Art they can go on the website and hopefully we can get a connection from there. (Melbourne.)

 

 

Gabriel Maralngurra

Gabriel Maralngurra was among the founding members of Injalak Arts in the late 1980s, and continues to be a driving force behind the art centre today.  He is a senior artist and screen printer, Injalak board member and president, ambassador and mediator for Kunwinjku culture, having worked many years as a tour guide and an Kunwinjku-English translator.
He is continually inspired by the rock art of West Arnhem Land, always referencing and working within this artistic tradition while pursuing formal innovations and new designs.

Gabriel with his work in progress at Injalak Arts. 

 

Where is home for you?  

It’s flood country. A bit of stone country. Also, the big flat area that is flood plain country.

 

You come from a long line of artists, how have they influenced your work? 

Yes, my family and my grandfather.  My grandfather’s not from this area, he’s from Croker Island. My mothers Father, he was an artist. 

He passed away a long time ago.

When I was young I used to watch him paint. That’s how he taught me and taught me stories when I was a kid.

I still follow my grandfather's footsteps because when I paint I think of him. When I paint I know the stories that he told me.

My little girl Gabriella and my eldest son, they paint too.

But I just paint whatever I feel like painting!

 

Can you tell me about the painting you're working on at the moment?

It’s just two water spirit and two water monitor, water goanna.  They live in a sacred waterhole.
That’s what I call it because the tourists ask and I say there are two - the 'water monitor' and the 'land monitor' and it’s easy for them to understand. 

What’s the local name for that?

Burrarr!

 

Gabriel's painting in progress - two water monitor and a water goanna, for enquiries call Injalak Arts. 

What works of yours have been made into textiles?

Two water monitor and white ingrids and then the Mimih Spirit and then a small design of the long neck turtle for kids.

 

How do you feel when you see people are wearing the designs?

I feel proud, you know, I feel happy that instead of them buying a painting which doesn’t move around, if it’s on a shirt the design can go anywhere and people will see it and they will ask - where did you buy this? 

They will say, that’s from Injalak in Western Arnhem Land and they can go online through a website or Facebook and can order some.

You know what I feel like myself is be proud of my design and happy. Not just myself, but my families too and the Art Centre itself.

 

I saw the work from 'Get it On!' a few weeks ago in Darwin…It was great! ['Get it On!' is an event run by Injalak Arts inviting clothing designers/makers to create wearable items out of Injalak hand-printed fabrics.]

Yeh, my little girl, Gabriella (Gabriel's daughter), they've got her designs.

They made them into small kids ones.

Dress whatever, pants, shorts and they sold out to!

 

What do you think of the art work designs getting printed onto fabric and in particular the Mimih Spirit design?

I think Mimih Spirits are very special people, they taught my people how to hunt, collect food, dance, sing.

They were the ones that taught us, they were our teachers. It’s like our ancestors, our great great grandfather and grandmother.

They taught my people the ceremony and all those things that we do these days.

They are good spirits. They look after us even if we go out bush and they come near the fire - especially the elders would come see them and talk to them.They usually live in Stone country, rock and caves you know.

Can women paint the Mimih Spirit?

Gabriella (Gabriel's daughter) is allowed to paint the Mimih Spirit because they are her ancestors and my ancestors too.

They taught her grandfather, my father so the cycle goes on.

That's how we have been taught and we still carry that.

What do you love most about living in the Northern Territory?

Living in Western Arhnhem Land, I like it. 

But I’ve been here long enough. Just want to move around, you know.

I’m planning to do more designs before I head out back to my homeland.

Where is your homeland?

Kudjekbinj, Eastern side of Arnhem Land.

That’s the country which is a beautiful place. That’s where my baby dreaming is.

But I cannot paint that now, I’m not allowed to.  

My two son’s are looking after it - They are part of land management and caring for the land. My two sons, my eldest one and my second oldest son.

 

North's Mimih Spirit cushion basking in the afternoon light at Ubirr,  Northern Territory.

North's Mimih Spirit cushion in a Melbourne home.

 

Cassie photographed with Gabriel's Mimih Spirit design on silk.
Photography by Hillary-Faye, Styling by Ella Bunrups

Aly de Groot

Aly de Groot is a contemporary fibre artist and multidisciplinary practitioner who lives and works in the Territory. On the journal Aly speaks with us about her bush dyeing practice with the Anindilyakwa women, the recent traumatic loss of her PhD art work and the role of the environment in her practice.

AlyDeGroot_GrooteEylandt_AnindilywakwaArts1

The women on Angurugu speak so highly of your bush dyeing workshops, what was the process of bringing a new artistic medium to this community of artists? Have you worked with other communities in a similar way?

In 2011 I was employed by Ghost Nets Australia to work with the women on Groote Island to experiment with ways to weave with ghost nets found on their beaches to make baskets and sculpture. I was delighted to be invited back to the Island again in 2015 to work with the women at the Art Centre, this time plant dying. We use a combination of processes including traditional plant dyeing techniques used in basketry production on the Island along with plant dying tricks I have picked up from many years of experimentation. 

We started off plant dying silk scarves but they have now branched out into home-wares and clothing amongst other things. There seems to be limitless potential in the making of these, because they are sustained by an intricate awareness and love of the flora. Some of the older artists already possess remarkable traditional plant dying knowledge and its exciting seeing this wisdom being shared and taken on by the younger women. 

Every few months I return to the Island and there are new dyers, and the way they have interpreted the processes and rapidly created their own distinct style blows my mind.  They are producing dark and rich colours that really make it noticeably recognisable that it’s from Groote Island. The same can be said about other communities where I have shared these processes. Like on the Tiwi islands, where they love their bright colours, there are differences in the way these techniques have been interpreted by the artists because of their personalities and the land where they live and source their materials and inspiration from.

AlyDeGroot_GrooteEylandt_AnindilywakwaArts2

How did you come to explore dyeing practice yourself? How does dyeing fit in to your other work? We understand you are dominantly a weaver & create large scale installation works.

My interest and passion for basketry and plant dying was sparked when I first came to the Northern Territory more than 20 years. A trip to the Nauiyu Nambiyu (Daily River) community in 1994 for their Merrepen Arts Centre and cultural festival changed my life. I was shown by the highly skilled and very patient traditional basket makers there how to make fibres from pandanas and dye them with native plants and then weave them into baskets. 

After this initial introduction to traditional fibre arts practice, I was hooked. I have continued to experiment with making woven sculpture in a contemporary fibre art context, continuously exploring ways in which to translate many different basketry and plant dying processes along with a variety of mediums, including man-made and up-cycled materials. Participating in textile skill development workshops such as those provided by the Australian Forum of Textiles Association ( TAFTA), since 2004, provides the opportunity to develop my interest in basketry and plant dying and learn from highly skilled and respected textile artists from across Australia and the world. This allows me to develop  my ideas to make new work as an independent artist, making commissioned works, as well as share these new skills with others, facilitating  fibre arts workshops across Australia in remote communities as well as with schools and at festivals.

AlyDeGroot_FibreWork

Oceanic fibre works from Aly's website.

We were devastated for you to hear of the recent destruction of your art work. Can you share with us a little about the focus of your PhD and what happened while you were away recently on Angurugu?

What was meant to be a quick install of air conditioners at Tactile Arts where I had a studio as their artist in resident, spiralled unexpectedly and horribly out of control when asbestos was disturbed. I wasn’t allowed to go in there until specialized contractors had finished cleaning. Days turned into weeks so I begged to be able to retrieve several works that I needed to send overseas to the Netherlands. 

After much negotiating, I received the works, but they were handed to me dripping wet. If it wasn’t so devastating, I could almost find humor in this fact because they are woven from fishing nets and line. Then, several weeks later I received another phone call, whilst work-shopping on Groote Island, informing me that quite a large proportion of my work had to be disposed of due to asbestos contamination. These works are irreplaceable, they take a very long time to make. 

They were an essential element of my PhD examination presentation and I am still trying to figure out how to proceed. Mine is not what many would consider a conventional PhD research project, it’s practice-led, which means the artworks made are considered a major part of the research. My personal empathy and love for the sea and sea creatures is the motivating factor behind this research project. I want to weave visual  stories that sing for marine life and coastal communities that are drowning from the discarded excess of our addiction to plastics, highlighting the dire need for attention to our extreme ‘rubbishing’ of the ocean. 

Can you share with us a little about the role of sustainability & the environment in your artistic practice?

Making do and making shift is a big part of my creative ethos.

That’s one of the many reasons why I love working with artists on remote communities. Belonging to the oldest living culture in the world, collecting and harvesting is not new for them and there is a continuity in how the artists gather their materials. We go driving to get leaves for colour and grab some rusty things from an old car body along the way. This is the nature of the art form to be shared and transformed, with each artist developing her own narrative and approach, drawing on traditional knowledge to express themselves in new ways.

I really am on a mission to take this passion for fibre art into surprising and unexpected domains. I want to engage and inspire as broad and diverse an audience as possible, in as many different platforms as possible, including exhibitions, public art and workshops. Recently local film maker, Tim Parish made a great little film: A Ghost Story the Art of Aly de Groot, that poetically and succinctly shares what I do and why I do it… And I got to weave under water which was a dream come true.

We’d love to know what the remainder of 2017 is looking like for you

2017 has already been a crazy year so far, from the studio debacle to travelling to Europe, to the next minute standing beside a fire by a creek on Groote Island, tending to dye pots. My BIG news is that soon I will be taking up a full time position with Anindiliakwa Arts as their Art Workshop Coordinator. I am honoured and excited to be moving to the Island to work full time with the wonderful women there. I value our relationships and every day is exciting as we teach and learn from each other. One thing that really became apparent to me when my work was destroyed is how sharing skills is just so important to me, if not more significant, than making. I love the magic that happens and the surprises that emerge from exchange and collaboration.

And I’m hoping to finish that PhD at some stage too, hopefully September…

Finally, what do you love most about the Northern Terrritory?

Like many people that weren't born in the Top End but now call it home, I came here to have a look more than 20 years ago and ended up staying. I've left a few times but always come back. Last year I moved to the Sunshine Coast to work on a large woven installation with the (local) Gabi Gabi weavers for the Sunshine Coast University Hospital. It's a beautiful place and I met some wonderful people but I was pretty happy to come home to the Territory.  I love the people and land here, and find endless inspiration in this crazy place I call home, there’s nothing like it.

AlyDeGroot_GrooteEylandt_AnindilyakwaArts3

Aly & Anindilyakwa Artists

From A Ghost Story - the Art of Aly de Groot 

 

Images provided by Aly de Groot - alydegroot.com.au / @daily_dyepot 

Video: A Ghost Story - the Art of Aly de Groot (on vimeo)

Interview by Amy Nicholas

Colette Gray & Tristan Kerr

Artists Colette Gray, Sherrie Jones and Jenine Gray of Tjutjuna Aboriginal Arts and Culture Centre in Ceduna, South Australia have collaborated with illustrator and artist Tristan Kerr to create a mural showcased in the heart of the Far West coastal town. Through a project called 'WAI' the artists spent time together workshopping ideas, exchanging knowledge on art practice and sharing techniques to formulate the foreshore facing mural. Colette and Tristan tell us a bit about their experiences in collaborating and creating the artwork for the community and tourists of Ceduna to enjoy.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the project “WAI” – What does it mean both in terms of the word and in terms of the project?

Tristan

The Wai Project came about through the Ceduna Aboriginal Art Centre who engaged me because they were looking to create a project to be a celebration of Far West/local identities, expressed through visual texts and symbolisms.

‘Wai’ is a colloquial word for ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ in Wirangu language based around Streaky Bay and Ceduna. It’s a common word that brings together the community in the area.

 

Colette

The name ‘WAI’ in language means ‘hello’, the WAI project was a way of saying hello to the community and saying ‘hello there is community involvement here if anyone is interested come and join us if you like’ and we got Elders advice before commencing on to the wall.

What is the objective of the mural you are created as a part of the WAI initiative? What does it reflect and seek to convey or elicit?

Tristan

The objective was originally to develop skills and to experiment with the artists and to exchange ideas about typography and also then for the artists to express their culture and their language. That was the objective behind the workshop but the mural allowed those ideas and skills developed in the workshop to be used.

The ideas with the type, allowed us to work on a message we could use to reflect the environment and the local community.

Colette

The objective of the mural was to send a message on who we are and where we come from, it was to send a message to all including tourists.

Your creative background appears to be quiet diverse – incorporating a mix of mediums and taking varied forms – How did you find the integration of your practice and with the local artists Colette Gray, Sherrie Jones and Jenine Gray’s own?

Tristan

It all happened quite organically. Having three weeks up there gave me time to get to know the community and the other artists and allowed time for us to generate some ideas together. We identified that there was a quite strong sense of place amongst the community and the Indigenous artists. We came up with the idea of the word ‘Wilara’ which is West in the local language Wiringu.

There are a number of different communities and languages in the area. There was a lot of discussion about the word WiluraRa and whether it embraced everyone and it lead us to talking to elders to have approval on using the word in the mural.

You are a renowned artist from Tjutjuna Aboriginal Arts and Culture Centre - Can you tell us a bit about your personal art practice? What do you paint/create in your work?

Colette

I am a Kokatha woman from Ceduna Far West Coast, I was born here. Me and my mother are both artistic. I enjoy my art I mainly paint about sky, land and water the three main things in my life.

How did you enjoy working on this collaboration with Tristan and other artists for the mural? How it was working with an artist/artists with a different art practices?

Colette

I have done several murals before, I like to collaborate with other artists to build my skills and knowledge as well as involving other artists from Ceduna Art Centre. It was fun, I learnt new techniques.

Can you tell us a bit about Tjutjuna (Ceduna) country – It is right on the coast in the Far West of SA, we hear it can be quite dry with a harsh climate – are there aspects of the landscape, lifestyle and traditional or contemporary indigenous culture celebrated or reproduced in the mural?

Tristan

The specific area on the west coast of SA is quite iconic. There is a strong visual contrast between the landscapes, you’ve got the richness of the red earth and the dark blue and raw beauty of the ocean there. There were beautiful geographic hues that we used, with symbols and abstractions of colours. We played with elements that reflected the spiritual importance for the Aboriginal communities.

Colette

Ceduna is right on the coast in the far west of South Australia. Tjutjuna is the language name for Ceduna. When I was born in 1984 the name was Murat Bay. The mural is situated in the community town and front beach the main tourist sight seeing spot. We used a traditional word on the wall called ‘WiluraRa’ meaning ‘West’ for west coast and I love how the contemporary colours go good with the traditional word.

What does it mean for the artists involved and for the broader community to have a merging of art practices, culture, language and identities in the form of a mural showcased in the heart of Ceduna?

Tristan

It was a great opportunity for us to all in engage and we got excited to share our art practices and our techniques and ideas, there was a big cross between the inspirations of works and styles. We played with aerosol and used sign painting brushes and other tools. It was great to collaborate and put together a small body of work that we are lucky enough to showcase in some exhibitions coming up like the Oyster fest in Ceduna, where pieces from our work-shopping will be exhibited in later in the year.

I think it was an interesting experience that we have all benefitted from. In terms of the community the mural was about going back to educating and celebrating the Wiringu culture through the use of type and abstract elements. Hopefully it will be a known feature in the town and will be there for a while to come.

I feel really honoured to have work there and to have worked with the other artists.

Colette

The Mural means a lot to me as a member of the community. I like to see it as a masterpiece for the life now and for the next generation. It is a good way for the next generation to get inspired and to show them that graffiti is not the way if you want to do art you can do it in a good way and you can have fun.

 

Project facilitator: Tjutjuna Arts, Ceduna Aboriginal Art Centre

Artists: Tristan KerrColette Gray, Janine Gray & Sherrie Jones
Instagram: @tristan_kerr

 

 

 Interview by Monica Segovic

Glen Farmer Illortaminni

Glen Farmer Illortaminni, an arts worker from Jilamara Arts on Milikapiti, Melville Island, shares his wild tale of being the first Indigenous fella to get lost in Paris. 

What brought you to Paris in the first place?

It was my Uncle, Timothy Cook. He had an exhibition in Paris and my committee at Jilamara Arts appointed me as his interpreter. We flew to Paris together.

How did you feel when you first found out about going to Paris?

Oh I was excited because I hadn’t been overseas before, this was my first exhibition overseas.

So tell us about your first night in Paris, is that when you went missing?

At around about 10 or 11 at night I got up. I was a bit hungry so I went for a walk just to look for some kebab. I was going to find the nearest pub so I could grab a few drinks and walk home to the hotel. I went too far out and I didn’t know my way around. I got lost and had to walk all night then, for four days.

Did you have anything with you? Your Phone?

I left my phone in the hotel, my key, my wallet. I only had about a hundred bucks on me. I couldn’t remember the name of the hotel so I walked, walked, walked. Took me four days. I walked around all over Paris, day and night.

Were you worried at all?

No no, I didn’t worry about anything because I was just enjoying myself. I met a lot of different people, the first people I met were Moroccans, they welcomed me for a place.

How did you come to meeting them?

On the street I spent a few nights with some homeless people around Paris. I found a family that were in a park so I just sat down with them on the bench. I went to get a few beers. They didn’t have any so I sat down and had a chat with them.

Did they speak English?

Not many people in Paris speak English, just a few. I tried to speak to the police but they didn’t understand me. I tried to explain myself but they were just speaking their own language. 

I had to sleep at the airport one night and then walked this way and slept this way.  I walked and walked. 

It was cold so I had to find myself somewhere warm. It was also raining so I walked toward this blocked road, where there (were instead of was) army and police, there was someone trying to do a plot there. They had to move me and tell me to go back, they grabbed me and they said ‘come on sir you’ve got to move back there’ There were dogs there. I tried to explain myself but they just moved me with all the other people. 

One Australian from Melbourne said to me, ‘sit down mate, there’s a bad person there’, but he didn’t cross my mind at all, didn’t cross my mind at all.

I didn’t tell him anything. I had to walk back to the airport and I stayed there one night.  At the airport and I saw this French guy speak full English, he was a Frenchman who worked at the airport and he gave me a map. I said “excuse me sir, do you know anything about the Australian embassy?” He said, “you’re a long way from here to the embassy.” He gave me a map and drew me directions.  I had no money at all. I'd run out of money, I just followed people in the train through the tunnel. I just looked at the signs and saw I’m here and I’m here and tick, tick, tick.. That’s where I was going at night time, and I was hungry and I was cold.

Did you have anyway of getting food? Was it only the Moroccan family that you found to eat with or did anyone else help you out along the way?

Yes, some people gave me notes, some people gave me money and notes. They knew I was missing, they saw me on the news, in the French news.

One time I was sitting there near this shop and a little girl found me and her father and mother w in the shop. They gave me some of the long rolls with ham and cheese and they gave me coffee. It was really good, I just met them outside the shop and they fed me.

One French lady she gave me a box of chocolates and I couldn’t stop eating, I ate the whole box.

So What happened? Did someone tell the police?

I was reported missing and when I got to the embassy they already knew about me. They said "you are a fugitive". I said, “Yeah I am” and I was laughing because they already knew my story and I think it was hilarious. First Indigenous fella who got lost in Paris

So would you go back to Paris one day?

Yes, I did. I would again. Apparently the gallery owner who organised the exhibition wants to write a book about me.

When I got back to Australia and went back to work on Monday morning, a French lady rang me, Amy. She said, “I’d like to talk to you about your experience” so I did a little talk back. I walked around the Art Centre and the co-ordinator, he took photo of me, put me on Instagram and said, “This is what I do for a living and I’d like to thank you, thank the embassy and thank the people at the airport for giving me directions and I had to thank everybody who lives in France.”

Do you think it’s a funny story in hindsight?

Yeah, people can get a good laugh about it. My family were really upset. I had to talk to Guy at Munupi Arts Centre at the embassy. They put me on Skype to him.

What’s your role at the Arts Centre? What kind of things do you do day to day?

I’m a cultural liaison officer and vice chair for Jilamara Arts. Every morning I’ve got to set up all the canvases for everyone, for all the artists, stretch them out and put them in the frame. 

I was in Darwin for 6 months and I haven’t been working. This is my second week at the Art Centre and the managers and everyone is happy that I’ve come back to work.

I’m training one young girl at the moment, she’s been at Tiwi college. She said to me, “One day I’ll be doing your job” and I said, “Good, I’d love to see that.” I’ve been there for 23 years now and my long leave service is coming up, I’ll probably go on holidays of something.

Where would you love to go on holidays?

I don’t know, probably Bali, just to relax, have some beer, some food, suck up some Balinese culture

 

 Artwork by : GLEN FARMER ILLORTAMINNI Terminator TjipomurJilamara Artsrayl, Etching, 41x30cm,Tiwi Eiffel Tower, available from Jilmara Arts 

 

Glen Farmer Illortaminni Aboriginal Artist_North1

GLEN FARMER ILLORTAMINNI, photo by North 

 

Artwork by : GLEN FARMER ILLORTAMINNI Terminator TjipomurJilamara Artsrayl, Etching, 41x30cm,Tiwi Eiffel Tower, available from Jilmara Arts 

 

 Interview by Crystal Thomas 

Colin Puruntatameri

Out of the blue Colin Puruntatameri, a Munupi artist from the Tiwi Islands, got given a plane ticket to Melbourne. Here he talks about the move from Garden Point (Pularumpi) on Melville Island to Melbourne and his new role at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Colin Puruntatameri Aboriginal Artist_North Home Interview

You’ve just moved down to Melbourne from the Tiwi Islands, what inspired you to make the big move?

It was meant to be just a visit to start with. I was coming down for holiday.

I got a call from my cousin saying she had an open ticket that she’d bought for my younger cousin and he didn’t want to go. I asked her to call me back in 10 minutes so I could think about it but I ended up calling her back straight away and took the ticket.

From there I went straight back home, chucked all my clothes in the washing then took them down to my cousin’s to throw them in the drier. The next day I woke up about 7am and packed my bag and jumped on the bus to go to the other community. It was my 21st birthday recently so I had some birthday money from my Dad. I made my way to the ferry and got in to Darwin about 6pm. I had dinner with my cousin and was on the flight by midnight.

Wow! So 24 hours later you were on your way to Melbourne, that’s wild! How are you finding being down here?

I find it really good, very friendly. You can go to anywhere in Melbourne and meet new people. There’s always something happening. Being on community there’s hardly anything on, maybe disco or hunting on the weekend. Here you can jump on the tram and head to the City or St Kilda and there’s always something exciting on.

Before moving down you were working as an artist at Munupi Art Centre, how did you come to making art there?

It was around the time I lost my Mum. I had a month off work and then an Aunty suggested I come and work at Munupi Art. I just started off when they gave me a canvas, and I was sitting there asking myself, “What should I do? Should I get someone to do a design for me or try to paint something from within?” I thought i’d just give it ago and try something new, I really loved it.

Most of my days there were spent outside with Cornelia. She would paint on the floor and I would paint up on the bench. Each morning I’d say good morning and she’d say hello and we would sit and paint together. It was really nice to have someone sit and comfort me as I was going through loss. Even though she doesn’t speak that much, just having her paint there and just being in her presence everyday helped me deal with the loss.

Can you tell us a little about the work you were making there?

My artwork is mainly desert style, dot painting. I’ve adapted my Granddad’s brother’s painting style in my work. I feature the emu as that’s our totem down in the desert. 

I’ve heard about how stories travel from each tribe or language group. One time I heard a story where someone up at Lajamanu had the same emu story as we had from the Yuendumu area. Some people from an island in Arnhem Land had the same story too. So in one of my paintings I painted emu eggs, each one having a different style to represent the different language groups. Each egg or language group has their own part within story and it progresses in the art like the story did.
Colin Puruntatameri Munupi Aboriginal Artist Emu Egg
Colin's Emu Story, for sale online through Munupi Art.


I understand you write poetry and music as well.

I picked up music around Year 8, I was singing hallelujah in line and one of my teachers came up to me and told me she’d heard me singing. She said she was going to get me into a choir and get me some music tuition. That’s where it all began.

Sort of same thing with the writing. At one point when I was feeling really sad she gave me a note pad and a pen and encouraged me to write down anything I felt. It started off just writing anything and then from paragraphs of just nonsense I started trying to get in to poetry.

Are there any particular artists or writers who have inspired you?

I don’t really aspire to be anyone. I just started right from the heart and try and stay true to who I am.

In my earlier writing I was talking about peace and politics. I can see similarities to Bob Dylan songs that talk about the same sort of things. Subject matter varies now. Sometimes my poetry can just be about the way I feel or the place where I am.

I remember writing a peace on my Year 12 retreat. At that point I didn’t know many people in my cohort and I felt really alone. The whole group went off and I just stayed where we were dropped off and wrote. After a while people came over and so each stanza changed with my environment and what was happening around me.

We’ve heard you’ve just picked up an internship at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). Congratulations!! What do you hope to learn from them?

That came through AFL Arts Ready. When I first moved down I was seeing them to help me find a traineeship. I was considering some of their IT options but then when I’d told them about my work with Munupi I was referred on to the NGV.

The whole week after the interview with the NGV I was so nervous, but on the Thursday afterwards I got the call! This week is my first proper week in the role I’ll be working in over the next 12 months. I’ll be doing three or four different things with them. I’ll be working with their storage systems, processing online orders and working within the NGV store.
When you think of home what comes to mind?

Even though I’ve moved away from the Tiwi Islands before, no matter how many times you go away you still always miss the scenery and the seafood.

There was this place we used to go camping called Mudlow (it’s also called Shark Bay). There was this one spot I used to go and sit. It’s on one of the cliffs looking out at this island called Wulinju. It’s beautiful country. There’s one picture that sticks in my mind when I think of Wulinju. One day it was very cloudy except for this one ray of sunshine going straight down to the island, it was almost biblical in a way.
Interview and portrait by Amy Nicholas
All other images courtesy of Munupi Arts & Crafts association.

After our interview with Colin he decided to take an incredibly brave leap and share an important part of his identity with his friends and family. He wished to share this note with you and I,

It starts of with a feeling I guess.
Then a word.
For someone from a small community this word seems foreign, taboo.
 
Over time I have tried to hide from this word, yet it has kept popping up in many stages of my life.
A lot of you know the word I am talking about.
It is not my whole existence, simply a part of who I am.
I am gay.
 
This does not mean I am different to the Colin you “knew.”
I am the same person.
I was just trapped in a world I didn’t fit in.
I decided to come out because I want to live life to the fullest and not suppress any part of who I am.
 
Now that I have come out, I feel liberated and finally at peace.
Whoever you are, I want you to know that there is help and support out there.
Be it issues with your identity, or simply that you have reached a hard point in your life, there is always support. You are not alone.
 
I wouldn’t have come to this decision if it weren’t with the support of Headspace and my friends and family.