Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, “Untitled (Yam Story)”, 1972, Acrylic on Board, 65 x 44 cm, Private Collection 

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, “Tingari”, 1988, Acrylic on Belgian Linen, 121 x 180 cm, Private Collection

Born at Marnpi located in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1926, Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri is one of the most important painters to emerge from Australia’s Western Desert. He was one of the foundation members of the art movement that emerged in Papunya Tula. While many of his peers painted according to stylized conventions, Namarari’s work is distinguished by an extraordinary range of visual inventions.

As a boy, Namrari was taken by his parents on traditional travels throughout the local area, including north to Nyunmanu, a major dingo dreaming site, south to Lake Neal,  and northwest to the Warnman Rocks and Warhungurru, a remote settlement in the Kintore Range of the Northern Territory. Following the murder of his father by a Aboriginal avenger group and his mother’s resulting suicide by fire, Namarari, along with his sister, fled the desert and traveled east to the safety of the Lutheran Hermannsburg Mission. 

In 1932, Namarari had his first associations with Australians of European background and began to attend the Hermannsburg Mission School. While attending the school, he became acquainted with the work of Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira and his fellow Western Aranda landscape painters. At the age of eleven, Namarari began stock work for cattleman Billy MacNamara at a cattle station located near the early settlement of Areyonga, where he later became initiated in a ceremony that signified his manhood. With the establishment of cattle stations at Haasts Bluff in the 1950s and, later, at Papunya in the 1960s, Namarari and his wife, Elizabeth Nakamarra Marks,  eventually moved closer to their traditional country; they would later have one daughter, Angeline Nungurrayl.  

In 1971 encouraged by Geoff Bardon, one of the founding members of the Papunya Tula Artists, Namarari, at the age of forty-five, began painting at Papunya. His early works have a bare background of a single color, most often black or rich red-brown, with most depictions related to Aboriginal Dreaming stories of the Moon. Namarari explored figuration in this early work, in which he gave equal emphasis to both the depictions of ceremonial performers and the details of the ceremonial ground with its associated sacred objects. He also created hypnotic depictions of his birthplace, Marnpi, in which he used white pulsing lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the ancestral wind’s vortex generated at the site.

Namarari’s typical work of the 1980s were gracefully controlled renditions of the classical Tingari design of linked concentric circles, which was one of that period’s keystones of Western Desert iconography. Using such tradition patterns, he developed a image series of red and white triangular and rectangular forms. By the late 1990s, Namarari was creating works often using white and yellow paint stipples applied with his fingertips. Because of the unusually large range of totemic sites for which he held responsibilities, Namarari’s later works varied widely in their depictions and in their artistic styles. In addition to the Dreaming stories of the Moon, he painted Dingo, Wind, Kangaroo, Mallee-fowl, Crow, Tingari Men, Hopping Mouse, and Bandicoot Dreamings.

In 1981, Namarari, along with two other senior Pintupi artists, were invited, at the request of former Papunya-associated people, to paint and show their work at an exhibition in Sydney. Namarari was awarded the National Aboriginal Art Award in 1991 and, in 1994, was a co-winner of the Alice Prize and became the inaugural recipient of the Australia Council’s prestigious Red Ochre Award for lifetime achievement. He became the only artist to receive all three awards. Throughout his creative artistic career of over twenty-five years, Namarari remained a loyal member of the Papunya Tula Artists Company, despite numerous offers of representation from local and national galleries. 

A reserved man and patient teacher, Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri died in Alice Springs in August of 1998, at the age of seventy two, and left a legacy of over seven hundred paintings that illustrate his inventiveness and the cultural richness of his heritage. His work can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, and the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, as well as in many private collections.

Top Insert Painting: Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Tingari Cycle, 1984, Acrylic on Canvas, 55 x 70 cm, Private Collection

Bottom Insert Painting: Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Children’s Dreaming with Many Body Paint Variations, circa 1972-1973, Papunya Community School Collection

Gary Lee

Photographs and Illustration by Gary Lee

Gary Lee is a Larrakia artist, born in 1952 and raised in Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia. An anthropologist, artist, writer and curator, Lee has been an active participant in and promoter of Aboriginal arts since the early 1980s.

Prior to his studies at Sydney College of the Arts, Gary Lee worked alongside Andrew Trewin to produce a line of evening and cocktail wear, incorporating Lee’s Aboriginal designs and sold under the Trewin Lee label. Lee attended a year at Sydney College majoring in glass and painting, but left to pursue a career in fashion design. After a few years in Sydney, Lee returned to the Northern Territory where he began working as a trainee Aboriginal arts advisor with Chips MacKinolty at Mimi Arts and Crafts in Katherine.

This move brought Gary Lee in contact with a wide range of Aboriginal artists and led to his curating a series of shows of Aboriginal crafts and art. Working at Mimi Arts inspired him to undertake studies, firstly as a Cultural Heritage Management student at Canberra’s College of Advanced Education and later at the Australian National University, earning a BA with Honors in Anthropology. Lee also undertook internships at the National Gallery of Australia, becoming its first Aboriginal intern, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. 

After five years of study and employment as a project manager for the Australia Council for the Arts, Gary Lee returned to his homeland as a Larrakia anthropologist in a research position at the Northern Land Council. During this time, he wrote a musical play based on his maternal heritage entitled “Keep Him in My Heart: A Larrakia-Filipino Love Story”, which premiered in Darwin and showcased Lee’s skills as writer and fashion designer.  

In 1993, Gary Lee began working in the field of photography with his series “Nice Colored Boys”, an allusion to Australian film maker Tracey Moffatt’s classic short film “Nice Colored Girls”. It began as a project to reconnect Lee with the regions of Nepal and India, where he traveled in the 1970s. The film was designed to celebrate the physicality of the men in the area, to subvert Western male beauty stereotypes, and to explore nuances of Aboriginal art and identity.

In 1998, Lee’s street photography, portrait series “Bablu, Milk Boy” was published in Australia’s oldest and most respected photography magazine, Photofile. At the suggestion of Photofile editor Alasdair Forster, Lee produced the “Skin” series, placing himself in the frame alongside men from Nepal and India. Photographs from this series were later shown in the 2008 “More Than My Skin” exhibition, which focused on Aboriginal male photographers, at the Campbelltown Arts Center.

Beginning in 2005, Gary Lee’s photography came to reflect a combination of contemporary and historical Larrakia subjects. The catalyst for this was partly his involvement as co-curator in an exhibition celebrating Billiamook, who was a key Larrakia figure in the region’s contact history. In this exhibition Lee displayed a portrait of his nephew, Shannon, alongside a portrait of Billiamook by the colonial photographer Paul Foelsche, in which both sixteen year old boys exude physical prowess.

Lee’s venture into portraits incorporating his own family paralleled his work into other Aboriginal portraits, becoming an extension of his “Nice Colored Boys” series. To some extent, he had already been doing this as a way of documenting Aboriginal gay and transgender communities. From 2004, however, he began a discrete, ongoing series called “Nymgololo”, a Larrakia word for young man or bachelor,  which focused on Aboriginal men in Darwin. 

In October 2007, Gary Lee was in Canberra for the opening of the “Culture Warriors” exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia when he suffered a life-threatening stroke. While undergoing extensive rehabilitation in 2008, Lee experienced his busiest period of exhibition commitments including his very first solo exhibition, “Maast Maast”, at Darwin’s 24HR Art NT Centre for Contemporary Art. This exhibition was largely a selection of past work from the “Nice Colored Boys”, “Skin” and “Nymgolofo” series.

Gary Lee’s work has been published in books, art journals and magazines in Australia and abroad. His work can be seen in many major collections including: the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra; the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin; and the art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth.

Note: A book of note is author Dino Hodge’s “Did You Meet Any Malagas (Men)”: A Homosexual History of Australia’s Tropical Capital”, published in 1993. It is a collection of oral histories intended to tell a gay history of the Larrakia territory, recognizing local issues of sexuality, gender, colonialism, and race. It should be noted that Hodges’ friend Gary Lee was the first indigenous person to collaborate with the Northern Territory AIDS Council.

Yoruba Ere Ibeji Figures

Yoruba Ere Ibeji Figures

The Yoruba have one of the highest rates of twining in the world. It is estimated that out of every 1,000 births, 45-50 result in twins. Twins are revered among the Yoruba and come into this world with the protection of the orisha deity named Shango who is evoked at the baby’s naming ceremony when he or she is a few months old.

Due to the low birth weight of twins and the high infant mortality rates in Nigeria, many twin babies do not live long. If a baby dies during childbirth, in the months leading up to the naming ceremony, the parents will seek consultation with an Ifá diviner, a Babalawo. If the Babalawo ascertains a spiritual cause, he will help the parents find a carver to create an Ere ibeji figure.

An Ere ibeji is a wooden carving of a male or female figure once used by the Yoruba. The figure is thought to be a focal point for the spiritual energy of the deceased twin who, according to Yoruba traditional thought, resides in the supernatural realm where he/she is cared for by a spiritual mother.

Phyllis Galembo

Phyllis Galembo, Masks Series

Phyllis Galembo was born in New York and lives in New York City.  She graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1977 and has been a professor in the Fine Arts Department of SUNY Albany since 1978.

Galembo has made over twenty trips to sites of ritual masquerade in Africa and the Caribbean, capturing cultural performances with a subterranean political edge. Her impressive body of photographs depicts the physical character, costumes, and rituals of African religious practices and their diasporic manifestations in the Caribbean and South America. Masking is a complex, mysterious and profound tradition in which the participants transcend the physical world and enter the spiritual realm. In her vibrant images, Galembo exposes an ornate code of political, artistic, theatrical, social, and religious symbolism and commentary.

Using a direct, unaffected portrait style, Galembo captures her subjects informally posed but often strikingly attired in traditional or ritualistic dress. Attuned to a moment’s collision of past, present and future, Galembo finds the timeless elegance and dignity of her subjects. Galembo’s portraiture illuminates the transformative power of costume and ritual.

She highlights the creativity of the individuals morphing into a fantastical representation of themselves, having cobbled together materials gathered from the immediate environment to idealize their vision of mythical figures. Her images capture the raw and often frightening aspect of ceremonial garb. While still pronounced in their personal identity, the subject’s intentions are rooted in the larger dynamics of religious, political and cultural affiliation. Establishing these connections is a hallmark of Galembo’s work.

Russ Kruse

Native American Art by Russ Kruse

Russ Keck was born in Orange, Texas, and was adopted by the Kruse family when he was three years old. As a child, Russ was introduced to the Native American culture by his uncle, who kept cases full of arrowheads that he’d found on his land and nearby. This sparked his interest in Native American culture and he soon began to create bows and arrows. Seeing his interest in handcrafting objects, his adoptive father, a carpenter, taught him how to work with wood. Russ then taught himself to carve animals out of pieces of Ash, Mesquite, Birch, and Maple trees.

He began to research the origins of his biological family and discovered that he was descended from the Cherokee people. Finally having his suspicions proven right about the naturalness of his art, Russ then realized that creating this art was his heritage and his life’s calling.

Russ has sold his art to galleries, trading posts, and Native American shops in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and New York.  In addition, he sells to collectors all over the United States, in Finland, and other European countries.

Nepcetat Mask

Central Yup’ik, Nepcetat Mask, Arctic Region, 1840-60. Wood, Swan Feathers, Snowy-Owl Feathers, Fox Teeth, Sealskin, Thong, Reed, Blood, Pigment, Ochre, Charcoal: Fenimore Museum, Cooperstown, New York

In all the classes of masks, the nepcetat or nepcetaq mask is ranked highest, being the most powerful mask. Each mask could only be used by its owner, and another person could not just take it and use it as effectively. Although the angalkuq or shaman would place the mask on his face without a string to hold it there, it would adhere to his face and not fall off even though he would bow down.

Deer Head Mask

The Deer Head Mask Of Mexico

Fanciful headdresses were an essential component of performance costumes because they were crucial to the dancers’ perceived transformation into the personage or spirit being in whose guise they performed. In Veracruz, figurines depicting warriors and a wide variety of performers often wear full-head masks, which can be removed to reveal the person inside, such as the amazingly detailed head-mask of a deer.

Post-fire paint adorns the animal, with black-line curvilinear motifs on his long ear and bright blue-green pigment embellishing his upper lip. Large protuberances on his snout and the single horn atop his head suggest a composite zoomorph rather than a biologically accurate rendering.

The deer was an important Mesoamerican food source, and its hide was used for a variety of purposes including the wrapping of ritual bundles and as leaves (pages) for screen-fold manuscripts which contained all manner of knowledge-from history to religious mythology to astrology and astronomy. The deer also was the animal spirit form of the mother of the seminal Mexican deity Quetzalcoatl and of the wife of the maize god among the Classic Maya.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun

Six Paintings by Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, of Coast Salish descent, graduated from the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in British Columbia. In combining his own experiences with a political perspective, he paints landscapes with vivid, acidic colours, merging Native iconography with a surrealist influence to address West Coast Native issues.

Yuxweluptun is Salish for “man of many masks,” a name given to the artist during his initiation into the Sxwaixwe Society at the age of fourteen. It is Cowishan Salish belief that the Sxwaixwe is a supernatural being who came down from the sky to live at the bottom of a lake. There is a dance associated with this creature in which the mask plays an important role. Yuxweluptun explains, “You carry the mask that belongs to your family and you identify with the animal on the mask.” (Robin Laurence, “Man of Masks,” Canadian Art, Spring 1995).

Yuxweluptun has chosen art as a way to voice his political concerns, exposing environmental destruction and the struggle of Native people. He believes that his artwork stimulates dialogue between Native and non-Native people.

Bakongo Nkondi Nail Fetish

Magical Objects: Africa: Congo Region: Bakongo Nkondi Nail Fetish

The various attempts to influence the fearsome powers of the supernatural through the mediation of statues or fetishes have acquired particular intensity in the regions round the mouth of the River Congo, home of the Kongo, Yombe and Vili tribes, and this is also the case in the east of Zaire, among the Songye.

Magical objects were for many years little known in Europe, as Christian missionaries working in Africa tracked them down and had them burnt. Certain statues which were brought back to Europe by religious men, allegedly for documentation, were kept in secret and could not be studied. They were much feared for they seemed, even to European eyes, to have real power, a belief almost universally accepted in 17th-century Europe. Olfert Dapper was the first to look dispassionately at these “fetish” objects and to dare to describe them.

Recent work has led to a better understanding. They are wooden carvings, either anthropomorphic or zoomorphic, which are covered with a variety of objects such as nails or metal blades. The cavities in their back or stomach contain “medicines” – grains, hairs, teeth or fingernails – which are held together with various binding materials. Pieces of fabric, feathers or lumps of clay are sometimes present. Finally, bits of mirror, shiny metal or shells are used to close the cavities or to mark the eyes.

Very often the faces alone are carved in detail, while the rest of the body – destined to be hidden under these various additional features – is sculpted more summarily. The figure’s genitals may even be missing, either because they have never been carved or because they have been removed by a zealous missionary.

Asmat Tribe Ancestral Skull

Asmat Tribe Ancestral Skullwith Carved Bone, Feathers, Fibers and Seeds

The first apparent sighting of the Asmat people by explorers was from
the deck of a ship led by a Dutch trader, Jan Carstensz in the year 1623.
Captain James Cook and his crew were the first to actually land in Asmat
on September 3, 1770 (near what is now the village of Pirimapun).
According to the journals of Captain Cook, a small party from the HM Bark Endeavor encountered a group of Asmat warriors; sensing a threat, the explorers quickly retreated.

The Asmat are an Indonesian cannibalistic tribe on the island; Papua. The Asmat live in mangrove vegetation near the sea and rivers, on the south side of the western part of New Guinea. The Asmat venerated their ancestors by decorating and honoring their skulls.  Asmat decorated skulls are displayed in sacred places inside Asmat domiciles.

Karoo Ashevak

Karoo Ashevak, “Drummer”, Date Unknown, Fossilized Whale Bone

Born in 1940, Karoo Ashevak was an Inuit sculptor who lived a nomadic hunting life in the Kitikmeot Region of the central Arctic befor moving into Spence Bay, Northwest Territories in 1960. His career as an artist started in 1968 when he participated in a goverment funded carving program. Ashevak created about 250 sculptures in his lifetime, primarily in the medium of fossilized whale bone. He expored the themes of shamanism and Inuit spirituality with hsi depictions of human figures, shamans, spirits, and Arctic wildlife.

Karoo Ashevak became a recognizable artist after his solo exhibition at the American Indian Art Center in New York in 1973. Unlike other Inuit primitivist carvings, Ashevak’s work abandoned cultural references and adopted a modern expressionistic style, which visually appealed to a broader audience than collectors of Inuit art.

On October 9th of 1974, Ashevak and his wife Doris both died in a fire that destroyed their home. Despite his short life, he established a well-known reputation in his community and the nearby area of Uqsuqtuc. His sculptures   inspired a whole generation of Kitikmeot carvers and have been included in multiple exhibitions. They continue to be widely collected as well as traded on the art market and during auctions

Bill Reid

Bill Reid, “Raven and The First Men”, 1980, Yellow Cedar, .University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology

Canadian artist Bill Reid was born in Victoria, British Columbia, in January of 1920. His father was of Scottish-German descent and his mother was from the Raven/Wolg Clan of T’anuu, known as the Haida, one of the First Nations of the Pacific coast. Reid studied jewelry making at the Ryerson Institute of Technology and Haida art from his grandfather.

In 1951 Reid returned to Vancouver, where he established a studio on Granville Island, a suburban area of Vancouver. He became very interested in the artworks of his great-great-uncle Charles Edenshaw, a renowned Haida artist. As a result, Reid’s work began incorporating his ancestors’ visual traditions and mythology into his contemporary style.

“Raven and The First Men” depicts part of a Haida creation myth with the raven representing the Trickster. In this creation story, the raven Trickster opens an oyster shell on the beach to find the first Humans. The Raven coaxed them to leave the shell to join him in his wonderful world. Some of the humans were hesitant at first, but they were overcome by curiosity and eventually emerged from the partly open giant clamshell to become the first Haida.

The sculpture was carved from a giant block of laminated yellow cedar. The carving took two years to complete and was dedicated on April 1, 1980. A number of First Nation carvers also worked on the project, including Reggie Davidson, Jim Hart, and Gary Edenshaw. Working on the emerging little humans in the latter stages was Geroge Rammell, a sculptor in his own right. Bill Reid did most of the finishing carving.