Here we meet two of Waringarri Aboriginal Arts’ rising stars to learn a little about how they continue to explore their country and their people through art.
Introducing Gloria Mengil, artist in Kununurra WA
To look at one of Gloria Mengil’s paintings is to step back to a time more than 40 years; a time when her grandmother and mother once collected bush tucker with her as a child. The backdrop being their traditional country of Binjin.
The paintings are tangible, intricately detailed connections to both her and her family’s past. Her brushstrokes represent the everlasting links to the land that she continues to explore and learn from.
When Gloria first began working as an artist, she worked in the mediums of slate and boab – carving out her past, her thoughts, her dreams. “Then in 2000, I began painting because I wanted to learn more about my country,” she says. “I mostly paint my grandmother’s traditional country.”
Weaving family traditions into her work
Gloria was born in Kununurra – a town on the eastern extremity of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It’s considered an oasis in the desert. Kununurra is a special place that is fertile enough to grow melons and mangoes. It’s here that Gloria learned about what she could collect from the surrounding lands to eat. From a young age, one of her favourite types of bush tucker was bush peanuts, which she loves to eat after they’ve been roasted on coals.
These peanuts are often featured in her bold graphic paintings. They’ve now also been adapted to appear on hand-thrown terracotta and stoneware plates, platters and beakers. And they’re even digitally printed on elegant silk scarves. The beautiful pieces are the end result of a collaboration between Waringarri Aboriginal Arts and JamFactory Contemporary Craft.
Sadly, despite there being benefits of increased agricultural expansion in Kununurra and surrounds, the changes to the original habitat in which Gloria and her family foraged has led to the bush foods that have fed Indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of years to become threatened. Today, Gloria rarely eats the bush tucker that she once survived on. However, through the intricately detailed paintings and objects that celebrate Gloria’s favoured foods, is the hope that these nuts and fruit can be protected for future generations to enjoy.
Introducing Dora Griffiths, artist in Kununurra WA
Dora Griffiths has had a rich and colourful life in Kununurra, surrounded by two things that she loves; her home Country and art. Over a decade ago, she worked at the Waringarri Arts Centre as an artist support worker. She helped the elderly artists to mix paints. After that, Dora worked as the gallery’s Administrator, then moved up to become Gallery Assistant. She then became a Director on the gallery’s board, later taking on the role of Chairperson. Dora then joined the ANKAAA Board (Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists) and completed the ANKAA Arts Worker extension program.
Being around so much art, history, culture and talented artists led Dora to putting her own talent to the test. Today, while juggling being a mother and a grandmother, when she manages to find some time for herself, she loves to paint her father and mother’s traditional Country. She’s proud to follow in the footsteps of her elders, learning about Country, culture and art, from her parents, acclaimed artist Peggy, and recently deceased Alan Griffiths.
Celebrating the Waringarri Aboriginal Arts legacy
In 2017, Dora curated her first exhibition. ‘Legacy’ was a special collection of works that embodied the past, present and future thinking around the art centre’s collection. The exhibition honoured the work of four deceased artists. Dora created the concept around the work of former masters Paddy Carlton, Daisy Bitting, Mignonette Jamin and Peter Newry. The four were renowned for using art as a tool to celebrate, educate and deliver cultural knowledge to future generations. They were pioneers of their time and helped to create the vision of Waringarri Aboriginal Arts. They left a powerful artistic legacy that continues to gather momentum today.
“Even though our old people are gone, they are still with us here today. Their spirit is here. It is a way of connecting back to the artists and also reminding us how far these artists have carried this place and kept us motivated and connected to each other through arts and culture,” Dora said while addressing the crowd on opening night at ‘Legacy’.
For more information visit waringarriarts.com.au