Kitty Simon is a dedicated artist with a distinctive, singular aesthetic.
Painting in remote Aboriginal communities is part of a rich communal cultural life.The work of individual artists can never be considered in isolation.
After an intimate association with the women artists of Lajamanu that is now more than 30 years old, we pay tribute to two of Lajamanu’s defining artistic forces and tribal elders, exhibiting their work alongside two of the women carrying and nurturing Warlpiri culture and community into the future. In this exhibition, Kitty Simon and the Ladies of Lajamanu, we will exhibit works by Kitty Simon Napanangka and Myra Herbert Nungurrayi, alongside a selection of works from the gallery archives by Lilly Hargraves Nungurrayi and Lorna Fencer Napurrula.
Kitty Simon is a dedicated artist with a distinctive, singular aesthetic. Her paintings – at first denounced by senior men for straying too far from the traditional idiom – have excited discriminating curators and collectors since her first solo exhibition at Cooee Art in 2013, winning admirers both inside and outside her tight-knit Warlpiri community. This was to have been her third solo exhibition with Cooee, which has been her exclusive international agent since the beginning of her career – in partnership with the Warnayaka Art Centre, a haven for the artists in Lajamanu. Earlier this year, Cooee Art received the news that Kitty Napanangka Simon has been unable to complete the body of works required for her solo exhibition due to a health setback (requiring renal dialysis outside of her community) and continual ‘sorry business’.
Lajamanu is about as isolated a township as you will find on the vast Australian continent: ten hours’ drive south of Darwin; eight hours north-west of Alice Springs; and eight hours south-east of Derby. About 1000 Warlpiri people were moved to this tiny, very isolated point in the north of the Warlpiri estate just after WWII.
A number of extraordinary paintings were created here once the old men, deeply steeped in tradition, finally relented and recorded their ancient Warlpiri stories on canvas for the first time in the mid 1980s. Sublime, meditative, zen-like rain Dreamings by Abie Jangala; action paintings by Lorna Fencer, drawn from the epic battle between Yurmupa and Wapertali – the mythological Big and Little Bush Potato men; large ceremonial works full of life, colour and movement by Lilly Hargraves – these are just a taste of the free-wheeling Warlpiri aesthetic that has emerged here over the past 35 years.
In Lajamanu, artistic expression is associated intimately with ceremonial life, celebrating birth, fertility, regeneration, and loss. Of these, loss is ever-present and especially poignant. Here, the ‘sorry camp’ can at times grow almost as big as the township itself. Especially in times when cultural custodians and revered elders pass away. The number of makeshift dwellings at the eastern-most border of the Lajamanu township continually swells and shrinks on the tides of misfortune.
In the sorry camp, people live as they did for time immemorial: as desert nomads sleeping simply under the stars. The long nights are spent keening for those who have died. This is not a time or place to paint. Outside visitors are not welcome where the spirits run free. More than just personal loss, a culture and way of life is being mourned, a nomadic life of which outsiders are largely unaware.
The success of an artist will often be felt throughout the whole community. Conversely, in these times of sorry business community will come together and bolster its struggling parts. In this exhibition, the women painters of Lajamanu, past and present, lift each other up. So we will wait a year for a solo exhibition by Kitty Napanangka Simon. And, for now, we give expression to the continuing legacy of Warlpiri culture that is easing the path through continual sorry business.