Sonia Kurarra

Skin: Nampiyinti
Language: Walmajarri

Country: Noonkanbah
DOB: c. 1952

Sonia Kurarra grew up in the river country at Yungngora (Noonkanbah). As a young woman she assisted with teaching art to children at the Yungngora kindergarten. She loved to take the children out to the Sandy Billabong and teach them painting, traditional song and dance. The billabong is a special place for Sonia, there is a ngarrangkarni [Dreamtime] snake that lives in the billabong named, Nangurra.

Sonia began painting at Mangkaja in the early 1990s working mostly on paper. Since 2008, Sonia has been working predominantly on canvas and her practice has become more consistently recognised, and included in major awards. Sonia’s work is now in most major collections within Australia and highly sought after by both national and international galleries and collectors. Her work on a leather hide recently featured in the Art Gallery of WA exhibition ‘Desert River Sea; Portraits of the Kimberley’ and she led a major installation commissioned by the MCA in Sydney which was included in The National 2019. Sonia was the first to make her mark on perspex and has taken the medium to new levels, she is a true artistic innovator who is highly regarded for her passion to create.

Sonia paints the sandy billabong country and life within the stretch of the Fitzroy River that runs directly behind the community. After the flood waters recede, there are billabongs that hold a plentiful supply of parlka [barramundi], kurlumajarti [catfish] and bream. She paints gapi [fish], parrmarr [rocks] where the fish is cooked, ngurti [coolamon] and a karli [boomerang]. Sonia paints these images over and over as though they are etched into her psyche; works that are linear representations in monotone and others that are layers lathered on with wild and confident brush strokes. These contemporary compositions display an outstanding understanding of colour and line work. Sonia Kurarra is one of the cornerstones of Mangkaja Arts and of the contemporary art-making in the Fitzroy Valley region.

Nada Tigila Rawlins

Due to Nada’s recent passing,
her image will not be shown
out of respect to cultural
protocols and care for the
family grieving her loss.

Skin: Purungu (Panaka)
Language: Wangkajunga

Country: Kiriwirri
DOB: c.1936 – 05.06.2019

“I was born in the desert in the bush. My mother never put me in a blanket. I never saw my father. We walked from the desert along the Canning Stock Route. We walked through Billiluna. One kartiya [European] called Len Brown picked us up early in the morning in a truck. He took us to Moola Bulla. I had a sore on my arm and they took me to the clinic. They gave me lots of needles. When my arm was better I lived with my family at Moola Bulla. Then we walked alongside the river to Christmas Creek. We walked, we had no motorcar. We carried our swags on our heads.”

Nada Rawlins was born in the desert and lived with her family in a traditional way until she was a young girl and her family were moved to the stations of the Kimberley to work for rations. As an adult she raised her own young family in Wangkajunga, a community on the edge of the Desert. Her daughter and granddaughters have followed in her footsteps as artists in their own right.

Nada’s career is long and varied. She is one of the founding members of Mangkaja Arts, she began painting in the 1980s at Fitzroy Crossing’s Karrayili Adult Education Centre. When the Mangkaja Arts centre was built, she began working there, largely teaching herself through observation of other artists. Nada was a painter

on the Ngurrara Canvas, a key artwork that secured native title for her people and is still held at Mangkaja in the collection.

A highly sought-after and idiosyncratic painter, Nada’s paintings are distinctive, robust and highly saturated interpretations of her country. Nada Rawlins is a deliberate and genuine artist whose every mark represents a moment in time. Nada’s artwork shares the landmarks and maps of country she walked as a young girl in the Great Sandy Desert.

In recent years Nada joined in the experimentation with acrylic paint and paint pens on perspex, with very exciting results. She won the Shinju Art Prize in Broome for her first piece on Perspex in 2016, and was the first finalist in the NATSIAA at the Museum and gallery of the Northern Territory with a painting on perspex. Even in the last years of her life she created work with incredible energy and pulse. This dynamism seems borne out of her intimate knowledge of her country’s wealth and abundance. She leaves behind a rich artistic and cultural legacy for her many grandchildren.

Daisy Japulija

Skin: Nampiyinti
Language: Nyikina, Walmajarri

Country: Noonkanbah
DOB: c.1948

Daisy Japulija was born near Noonkanbah under a Konkerberry tree. She grew up in Noonkanbah and worked in the station kitchen until she married Colin Wasi (artist). They left Noonkanbah and travelled around the country ending up at Cherrabun Station where they set up camp for a long time and raised their son.

Daisy started painting at the Noonkanbah shearing shed and then in the old Mangkaja shed a long time ago. Previously, paintings done at Yakanara were sent to Mangkaja. She painted with Yakanara Adult Education Centre whose main emphasis was the teaching of children, instruction in language and culture and teaching people about painting. Those attending were also taken on excursions to the local waterholes and rivers.

Daisy visited her ancestral country, the Kurlku area of the Great Sandy Desert, only once when her mother took her there as an adult. Daisy’s art is an incorporation of motifs and memories of a life lived by the river and billabongs of the Fitzroy Valley, the vibrant colours and large swathes of water feature in her work.

Daisy’s passion for colour is evident in her artwork as much as her sense of dress. She layers the canvas with large areas of vibrant colours, dotting and line work on top with her own rhythm.

Daisy is one of the leading artist of the perspex development, she has mastered the medium; her work plays with negative space and surface delineation more than any other. Daisy and her sister Sonia Kurarra were leaders in the commissioned perspex installation at the MCA for the National in 2019.

Lisa Uhl

Language: Wangkajunga
Country: Kurtal

DOB: 01.01.1976 – 1.10.2018

Lisa Uhl was a Wangkajungka woman who lived all of her life in Fitzroy Crossing. She was a much loved resident at the Juniper Gwardi Ngardu Aged Care facility in Fitzroy Crossing in the later years of her life.

With mesmerizing effect, Lisa illustrated her love of country through her rhythmic, abstracted paintings, recalling the stories she has been told by her elders, more specifically by her mother Jukuja Dolly Snell (Dolly raised Lisa from a small infant, and was her aunty). Lisa has never been to the country she has inherited from her ancestors, country in the heart of The Great Sandy desert, she was limited by her physical disability. Her works then, are a tapestry of anecdotally acquired knowledge, and an empirical experience referencing the rich colour and expanse of the Kimberley.

Lisa was an innovater who loved colour and experimentation, her work spanned, paper, print, canvas and sculpture and she loved working on the new perspex medium. On perspex, the way Ms Uhl painted was luscious, approaching sculpture and created soft painterly wonders, manipulating the paint and using thickness and tone to delineate the soft trees that inhabit her country. She was one of the leading artists to develop the perspex medium and featured in the commissioned installation of perspex for the National Exhibition at the MCA.

Lisa passed at a young age due to kidney failure a condition that affects so many in remote Aboriginal Communities due to the lack of available healthy food and the expense, as well as poor water quality sources. Her legacy lives on in the incredible artworks she produced, and the recognition given to her as a leading artist uninhibited by her physical limitations and celebrating her abilities.

Ngarralja Tommy May

Skin: Jungkurra
Language: Walmajarri

Country: Yarrnkurnja
DOB: c. 1935

Ngarralja is a Wangkajunga/Walmajarri man. He was born at Yarrnkurnja in the Great Sandy Desert. He is a senior songman for Kurtal, a ceremony relating to the main jila [living waterhole] in his country and holds the knowledge of many songlines across the region. He is a painter and printmaker and a senior artist that supports the development of artists in the Fitzroy Valley region.

"I was big when I left my country. I was already hunting by myself. I was with my young brother and my mother. My father had passed away by this time. I know these stories and these places in my country. We are not allowed to paint that story for other people’s country. We will get killed or into trouble if we do this. We put that easy story, not a really hard story like law business. We can’t paint that either. I first saw paintings in caves. I learned a lot from people, mostly my father and grandfather. I was living all around in my country, camping all around. Wurna juwal,always moving. When I paint I think about this. My work is now like my drawing for printmaking, straight onto the tin, or sometimes wood, using a knife or pens. I work everyday, and I’ve travelled a lot with the paintings. Singapore, Houston, Washington D.C., like that.”

Ngarralja is fluent in Wangkajunga, Kukaja, Walmajarri and English and writes Walmajarri. He is a founding member of the Karrayili Adult Education centre where he learnt to read and write his own language and English. Ngarralja is an important person for art and culture in Fitzroy Crossing. He is a founding member and former chairman of Mangkaja Arts and former Chairman of Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC). Ngarralja was also an executive for twenty one years on the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKA) Board of Directors, and was a contributing artist to the Ngurarra Canvas used in the successful native title claim. Ngarralja lives with his children at Mindi Rardi Community in Fitzroy Crossing.

Ngarralja is a leading artist and innovator recognized for his development of tin and perspex artworks, experimentation with digital animation, jewellery and general innovation with art practice. His artworks are in most major collections around Australia and highly sought after by both national and international galleries and collectors. Tommy May has been consistently selected as a finalist in most major awards nationally and a winner of many art prizes over his career.