“Art is our voice now” says Daniel Walbidi, a young man of impressive creative power.(McManus, 2008) Born in the remote West Australian community of Bidyadanga (250 km south of Broome) in 1982, he grew up listening to the songs and stories of his elders and, encouraged by his high-school art teacher, revealed a natural talent for their visual rendition. He has become the driving force behind a burgeoning art movement that now provides much of the community’s revenue and, in the wider art world, is their ‘keenly collected star’. (Rothwell, 2008)
In 1999 he approached Broome gallery owner, Emily Rohr, with the idea of starting a painting group. He recognized the need to paint, not only in himself but also amongst his elders, who carried compelling memories of traditional knowledge and the loss of their desert homelands. Severe drought and encroaching mining and grazing developments during the 1960’s had pushed the Yulparija people coastwards. Along with several other desert tribes, they found refuge at Le Grange Mission and settled amongst the Karajarri, the saltwater estuary dwellers at Bidyadanga. In 2002, the Karajarri won a land claim that brought the different strands of cultural identity within the melded community to the fore. With Walbidi at the helm, the Yulparija ‘way of seeing’ took on a new impetus. Sell out shows resulted in Melbourne and Sydney, with some of the seventy and eighty year old leading Bidyadanga artists referring to the determined Walbidi as ‘young-boss’.
Accompanied by a film-maker David Batty, the painting group journeyed to visit their long missed ancestral lands. (Desert Heart, Rebel Films, 2008) Walbidi’s meticulously detailed and abstracted topographies, of once only-imagined places and journeys, noticeably relaxed after this real life encounter. He realized the power and depth of his indigenous inheritance. It is, he said, “…a part of myself. Its not just a story, it’s a living thing.” (Rothwell, 2008) He describes the desert ochres as the warm centre while the coastal turquoise blues and greens provide a contrasting exuberance of life and movement, using familiar yet always striking motifs. Though concerned to keep his culture alive, Walbidi is also inspired by the modern world and contemporary art practises, particularly after a recent trip to London. “We still paint the land,” he says, “but in an evolving way.”
National Gallery of Australia.
National Gallery of Victoria.
Parliament House, Canberra
Sam Barry Collection.
2009 - Daniel Walbidi - Recent Works, Short Street Gallery, Broome, WA.
2007 - Winpa, Short St Gallery @ Mary Place, Paddington, Sydney, NSW
2006 - Daniel Walbidi, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne.
2012 - National Indigenous Art Triennial: unDisclosed, featuring the work of Vernon Ah Kee, Michael Cook, Julie Gough, Danie Mellor, Alick TipotiTony Albert, Nici Clumpston, Lindsay Harris, Naata Nungurray, Daniel Walbidi, Bob Burruwal, Fiona Foley, Jonathan Jones, Maria Orsto, Lena Yarinkura, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Gunybi Ganambarr, Sally Gabori, Christian Thompson, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia.
2008 - Paintings from remote communities: Indigenous Australian art from the Laverty collection, Newcastle Regional Gallery, Newcastle, NSW; Xstrata Coal Emerging Indigenous Art Award (2008), QAG, Brisbane.
2007 - 24th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; Yulparija Artists New Works on Board, Short St Gallery, Broome WA; Winpa, Raft Art Space, Darwin; Desert Heart, Nevill Keating Gallery, London, UK; From the Bungalow I: Yulparija Artists, Johnston Gallery, Perth, WA.
2006 - Bidyadanga Men, Art House Gallery, Sydney; 2006 Outback Art Prize, Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, Broken Hill, NSW.
2005 - Return of our land, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs, NT; Recent works from Kirriwirri, Art House Gallery, Sydney; Big Country, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs, NT; 22nd Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.
2004 New Works by Bidyadanga Artists, Raft Art space, Darwin; Desert to Saltwater, Short St Gallery, Mary Place Gallery, Paddington; Desert Ocean, Short Street Gallery @ Kidogo Gallery, Fremantle; Bidyadanga Artists, William Mora Gallery, Melbourne; Bidyadanga Artists, Art House Gallery, Sydney.
2003 - Manjyiljara, Short Street Gallery, Broome.
2001 - Salon Show, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney; From here to there, Short Street Gallery, Broome, WA.
2000 - Stompen Ground exhibition, Goolari Media, Broome, WA; Remote Schools exhibitions, Short Street Gallery, Broome, WA; NAIDOC Week exhibition, Short Street Gallery, Broome, WA.
1999 - Remote Schools exhibition, Matsos, Broome, WA.
Nicolas Rothwell, 'Our Old People Need to Paint', The Australian, Jan.29, 2008.
Xavier Dhalluin, 'Contemporary Artist Keeps With Tradition', Broome Happenings, Issue 77, 2006.
Patrick Hutchings, 'The Blue Dreams of a Desert Mob at Sea', The Age, 14-15th April, 2006.
Julianna Dowling, 'In Living Colour', Notebook, Jan 2006.
Clive Aslet, 'Tribal Landscapes', Financial Times, July 7/8 2007