Lightning and the Rock

Installation view of works by Nonggirrnga Marawili in Marking the Infinite.

Nonggirrnga Marawili’s early works primarily represented the motifs of her husband’s clan, the Djapu. Recently, however, she has focused on the designs of her own Madarrpa clan. Her patterns echo sacred Madarrpa iconography, but she renders them in expressionistic, personal ways out of respect for the prohibitions of Yolngu Law, according to which only certain people can hold a proprietary claim to paint these designs. She explains: “This Yirritja painting I’m doing is coming from the heart and mind, but it’s not the sacred Madarrpa painting. It’s just an ordinary fire, not the Madarrpa fire: tongues of fire, fire burning backwards. This is just my thinking. No one told me to do this pattern. I did this on my own. When the elders see it they will let me know what they think.”

These works are on view in Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia through September 9, 2018.

Meet the Marking the Infinite Artists: Carlene West

In this series, we introduce the nine artists behind Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, on view at The Phillips Collection June 2–September 9, 2018.

Installation view of works by Carlene West in Marking the Infinite. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Born c. 1944, Tjitjiti, Western Australia
Lives and works in Tjuntjunjtara, Western Australia

Carlene West was born in the sand hills on the western edge of Tjitjiti, a vast salt lake in Spinifex country. In 1959, West and her family left the desert to escape the British government’s nuclear testing at Maralinga, moving to a mission at Cundeelee. With her husband, Fred Grant, she was influential in the Spinifex people’s push to return to country and reclaim their Native Title from the state; the Spinifex people returned to live in Tjuntjuntjara in the 1980s, and in 2009 were able to relocate through the bush back to Tjitjiti. West began painting in 1997, and her acclaimed later works have been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and the British Museum, London.

Symbols and Storytelling in Wintjiya Napaltjarri’s Work

Installation view of works by Wintjiya Napaltjarri in Marking the Infinite.

“For Wintjiya Napaltjarri, the final act of each painting was all consuming as she surrounded her iconography in a swath of white paint. This illuminated each symbol in the same way that white ochre was used traditionally to encase body paint on naked breasts and arms. Using the wooden handle of a paintbrush, she embarked upon a rhythmic and lyrical process, dipping it deep into a pot of paint and then merging and dabbing dots together until all of the unpainted surface of the linen was covered in white. In my hours of watching this stage, the repetitive sound of this action became an allegory for the pulse of time and the knowledge that is passed through it.” – Sarita Quinlivan, Writer

Watanuma, located northwest of the Kintore Walungurru settlement in the Northern Territory, is associated with the Minyma Kutjarra (Two Women) creation story. This story follows two sisters whose travels shaped the distinctive landscape of the region. Napaltjarri’s painting doesn’t imitate or illustrate topographical features or narrative events but instead uses symbols that allude to the Two Women tale. The ancestral women are indicated by U shapes, while floating comb shapes represent their nyimparra (hair-string skirts). The circles may indicate rock hole formations or the plump fruits of the bush tomato (Solanum chippendalei) that the women gathered on their journeys.

These works are on view in Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia through September 9, 2018.