Kimberley Art, Vic Cat No. KA 760/98
Private Collection, NSW
Maggie Watson began painting at 60 years of age. By the time of her death 19 years later in 2004, she had become the senior female artist at Yuendumu, 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. She was a leader among 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, Dorothy Napangardi Robertson, and other female Yuendumu artists is 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 they made 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 and 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. They 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 symbolically manifest as desert oaks, growing in their homeland near Mina MinShare