Looking at Art - October

<strong>Barbara Narndu</strong><br/>Born 1982, Wadeye (Port Keats) community<br/>Resides Wadeye (Port Keats), Northern Territory<br/><br/><i>Kardu Wandhitwandhit (Kemputh)</i> 2005 <br/>Etching edn 7/10 <br/>20 x 12.5cm [image]; 39.5 x 29cm [paper] <br/>Collaborator/Printer: Leon Stainer <br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – CDU1268 <br/>Image © the artist

Barbara Narndu

Narndu’s etching was created and printed at CDU in September 2005, when she undertook printmaking tuition as part of her Year 12 assessment as a student at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Thamarrurr School, Wadeye. The course was delivered to a group of Year 11 and 12 students by VET-Remote Area Lecturer in Printmaking Leon Stainer, School of Creative Arts and Humanities, Casuarina campus.

A senior Wadeye woman, Leonie Melpi, who accompanied the OLSH-Thamarrurr students to Darwin, also took part in printmaking. Melpi is a member of the Kardu Lurruth Ngala (Strong Culture Centre) team at Wadeye where “strong women help students learn about art and culture”. One of her prints was also acquired for the CDU Art Collection.

Assisted by teaching staff from OLSH-Thamurrurr School, the printmaking students also mounted an exhibition of the works they created during the workshop at The Gallery, Building Orange 10 Casuarina campus (29 September – 5 October 2005), gaining experience in exhibition installation, management and sales. The students called their show Ngakumarl Dirrmu Ngankungime Art Exhibition – Totems, Paintings of us Girls. Narndu’s etching, along with three others by Priscilla Parmbuk, Therese Marie Dumoo and Marjorie Nemarluk, were acquired for the CDU Art Collection from this exhibition.

Narndu’s clan group is Kardu Yek Nangu and she is a young traditional land owner in the Wadeye community. Her dance group is Nanthi Wurlthirri and she also participates in the Tjanpa dance through matrilineal descent. She is a Murrinhpatha language-speaker.

The subject matter of Narndu’s etching is, in her words, a representation of “the first human being who lived at our country for many years”, related in stories to her and “retold through my ancestors as they passed it on from generation to generation”. The etching depicts her “dreaming spirit person”. This ancestral being belonged to the Kardu Yek Nangu tribe, originally known as the Rak Yirrminhirnu people. The figure references the “special messages on rock paintings” by her ancestors in the region, designating birthright and encoding behavioural patterns. For the Kardu Yek Nangu people, it is “a sacred site area to be protected” and can only be entered with permission. For Narndu, this “art is very special to me and my family because of our identity and what we believe”.

Kardu Wandhitwandhit (Kemputh) 2005 alludes to the little-known but extensive tradition of rock art in the Daly-Fitzmaurice Rivers region, first brought to public attention in the early 1960s through the pioneering field work of W.E.H. Stanner and his informant Nym Bandak, only recently the subject of concerted scholarly research or publication. Given new form and creative expression through the print medium, Narndu’s etching also recalls the figurative iconography of sacred ancestral beings in early Wadeye bark paintings dating to the 1950s, and earlier still, the curvilinear forms, patterns and abstract designs (dirmu) found in nature and reinterpreted on painted boards, bull-roarers and incised stones.

As Wally Caruana has observed, far from being “haphazard or accidental”, the concentric circles and meandering lines of Wadeye art are “the ordered creations of supernatural beings of the Dreaming”. An often strict compositional symmetry in non-figurative work in turn reflects “social and ceremonial arrangements”. Wadeye art’s pictorial and iconographic similarities to that of neighbouring regions is evidence of an aesthetic cross-fertilisation that occurred in the protracted history of cultural and social convergence in the pre and post-contact periods. The visually stimulating but often cryptic visual language which emerged – its hybrid style and syncretic cultural content – connects the art of the Top End of the NT with that of the Kimberley and further south, to the painting traditions of Central Desert.

Along with six other young women, Narndu was awarded an NT Certificate of Education in 2006. She and her fellow classmates were the first students from Wadeye to complete high school. She achieved a perfect score in the NTCE for community studies. At a special ceremony at Wadeye marking the occasion on 10 March 2006 and attended by the Territory Education Minister, Narndu noted: “We knew when we went together we could achieve. I hope many more follow in our footsteps.”

[Sources: OLSH Print documentation, 11 November 2005; W. Caruana, Aboriginal Art, Thames & Hudson, London, 1993, pp.93-6; G.K. Ward & M. Crocombe, “Port Keats Painting: Revolution and Continuity”, Australian Aboriginal Studies 2008/1, Aboriginal Studies Press (AIATSIS), pp.39-55; NT News, Saturday March 11, 2006, p.5]

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection
23 September 2009

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