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‘My painting is about my country, my father, my aunties, their aunties. We have been walking that country around Mina Mina long time – plenty stories for that place.’1 The painting Sandhills by Dorothy Napangardi conveys a sense of family, the painstakingly methodical dotting representing the many footprints that she and her ancestors have stamped into country over millennia.
Mina Mina country, northwest of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, is a landscape of patterns. While the sandhills and spinifex clumps make lines and dots in the landscape, the claypans are points of intense concentration. It is a site of movement, where women would dance and gather food, using digging sticks to pierce the earth, stopping to perform ceremony, to press culture back into the earth while maintaining their song cycles.
The sense of movement in Napangardi’s canvases ‘mirrors the movement of what is a quite literal journey’.2 While living in Mina Mina she gained instruction from her grandfather on Karnta-kurlangu/Kana-kurlangu Jukurrpa (Women’s Digging Sticks Dreaming), which would become a principal subject in her practice. She grew as a painter living off-country in Alice Springs, her epic paintings becoming her way of travelling back to the well-trodden paths of her Warlpiri ancestors.
While the grand scale of Sandhills gives an understanding of the way Napangardi’s people moved around country on foot, it is the gaps between the lines, the turns and shifts and folds, that create this intimate portrait of country. ‘This makes me happy to paint’, Napangardi explained, ‘sitting down painting and singing, remembering – this brings me close to country’.3
(1) Dorothy Napangardi, ‘Artist’s statement’, in Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster (eds), 18th Biennale of Sydney: All Our Relations, exh. cat., Biennale of Sydney, Sydney, 2012, p.288.
(2) Christine Nicholls, ‘Grounded abstraction: the work of Dorothy Napangardi’, in Dancing Up Country: The Art of Dorothy Napangardi, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2002, p.66.
(3) Napangardi, op. cit.