Warlukulangu Artists, NT
Private Collection, NSW
Cooee Art, NSW
Maggie Watson began painting at 60 years of age and became the senior female artist at Yuendumu by the time of her death in 2004. Though she created paintings for 15 years and was never a prolific artist, she was a leader amongst a group of women artists who began to challenge the dominance of men’s acrylic painting in the Central Desert region from the mid 1980s. The emergence of these women in Yuendumu and simultaneously in Utopia (amongst Anamtjerre and Alyawarre peoples) challenged the notion that men were the sole guardians of the visual life of these communities.
Foremost amongst the major themes depicted by Maggie Watson was the important Warlpiri women’s Dreaming of the Karntakurlangu. This epic tale recounts the travel of a large group of ancestral women, the hair string belts and Ngalyipi (Tinospora smilacina or snake vine) they used to carry their babies and possessions, and the magical emergence of digging sticks which, quite literally, thrust themselves out of the ground before the women during the Dreaming, thereby equipping them for their vast travels. As the women danced their way across the desert in joyous exultation they clutched the digging sticks in their outstretched hands. Dancing in a long line they created important sites and encountered other Dreamings. Hundreds of these women travelled on the long journey first toward the east, then to the north, then south collecting plants and foods with both medicinal and ceremonial uses. They visited many sites, resting at some, going underground at others and later re-emerged morphing into different, sometimes malevolent, beings. These powerful ancestral women were involved in initiation ceremonies and used human hair-string spun and rubbed with special red ochre and fat as part of their magic just as women do to this day when performing ceremonies that connect them with their Jukurrpa. The digging sticks are regarded as symbolically manifest as desert oaks growing in their homeland near Mina MShare