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Kitty Kantilla

Jilamara - Ceremonial Design - 1994

natural earth pigment on canvas
45.5 x 35 cm
Price Realised: $4,392.00

MP #650


Jilamara Arts and Crafts, Milikapiti, NT, Cat No. SC94KK045
Cooee Art Gallery, NSW
Private Collection, NSW

45.5 x 35 cm
47.5 x 37 cm (frame)

Kitty Kantilla’s art, and indeed all Tiwi art, is informed by the ornate body painting of the Pukumani ceremony. What makes the art of Kitty Kantilla and those of her generation so inherently important is the fact that the meaning of these designs has been largely lost since the missionary era. She was amongst the very last who inherited them intact.

A seemingly abstract iconography lies at the heart of Kitty Kantilla’s art. Far from being non-representational, however, the different combinations of dots, lines, and blocks of colour called jilamara (design), when combined, evoke elements of ritual and reveal the essence of Kantilla’s cultural identity. Like other Tiwi artists, Kantilla gained her artistic knowledge in ceremonial contexts, before learning to express her individuality by carving and painting objects related to the Pukumani (mourning) ceremony.

Her artworks, regardless of medium, were always tied to the fundamental Tiwi creation story. Bima, the wife of Purukapali, makes love to her brother-in-law while her son Jinani, left lying under a tree in the sun, dies of exposure. Purukapali becomes enraged and, after his wife is transformed into a night curlew, begins an elaborate mourning ceremony for his son. This was the first Pukumani (mortuary) ceremony, telling how death first came to the Tiwi Islands.