Soul of the outback

Aboriginal Art Directory | 04.02.10

Samuel Namunjdja walks into the gallery barefoot, bearing two paintings on bark; abstract works in ochre of lines and dots representing stories from Aboriginal mythology.

He is one of the gallery’s rising stars. Namunjdja’s paintings hang in galleries and private collections on four continents. Recently, he travelled to Bahrain where some of his works were on display at La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art.

It was his first trip to the Gulf and I ask him his impressions. “No trees,” he replies, breaking into a wide smile. Namunjdja lives with his extended family deep in Arnhem Land, a territory of northern Australia returned to its Aboriginal owners in the 1970s. The closest city, Darwin, is 600km away and inaccessible by road during the wet season.

The nearest shop takes an hour to reach by car, but Namunjdja says he rarely needs to buy provisions. Mostly, he lives off the land, hunting turtle, kangaroo and magpie goose.

Namunjdja usually shows up at Maningrida Arts and Culture without warning to drop off new pieces and pick up his cheques. Sometimes he visits every few weeks; during ceremonial periods, he stays away for months at a time.

Maningrida is home to about 3,000 people but has yet to be classified as a town. The community’s centre, nestling between the eastern bank of the Liverpool River and the coast of the Arafura Sea, consists of a series of brick and corrugated-iron buildings on nameless streets. There’s no bank, no restaurant, no cinema and no taxi or bus service. Yet the gallery, Maningrida Arts and Culture, is of national renown and crammed with the most extraordinary collection of Aboriginal artefacts: three-metre logs painted and hollowed out as coffins, woven baskets for catching fish, and didgeridoos adorned with ochre designs. An air-conditioned storeroom off the main gallery contains rows of steel drawers, where the precious bark paintings are laid out.

URL: http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100202/ART/702029986/1081


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