Looking at Art - April

<strong>Jean Baptiste Apuatimi</strong><br/>born c.1940, Pirlangimpi (Garden Point), Melville Island<br/>Mother’s/Father’s country: Marlawu<br/>Domicile: Nguiu, Bathurst Island<br/>Skin group: Japajapunga (March Fly)<br/>Dance: Jarrangini (Buffalo)<br/><br/><i>Numwariyaka</i> [Ceremonial spears] 2006<br/>Natural ochres on linen 80 x 30cm<br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – CDU1293 Acquired in 2006<br/>Image © the artist and courtesy Tiwi Design, Bathurst Island

Jean Baptiste Apuatimi

One of the most senior and renowned Tiwi Island artists painting today, Jean Baptiste Apuatimi joined Tiwi Design Aboriginal Corporation at Nguiu (Bathurst Island) as a full-time painter in 1997.

Her late husband, Tiwi cultural elder and esteemed ceremonial carver/painter/dancer Declan Karrilikiya Apuatimi (c.1930 – 1985), was both her mentor and instructor. The legacy of his parlini jilamara [“olden days painting” – traditional designs associated with Tiwi ceremonies], lives on today in her own individual, innovative and ever-evolving aesthetic, and in the creative practice of their daughter, Maria Josette Orsto.

In Jean’s words: “I love my painting, I love doing it. My husband ... taught me to paint. The designs are ones he taught me ... he said ‘One day you will be an artist – you will take my place’. Now I am doing that. Painting makes me alive.”

In the early 1990s, several years after her husband’s demise, Jean resumed her artistic practice, initially at Milikapiti (Melville Island). It began as a homage: a reinvestigation of Declan’s classic visual vocabulary but also a means of forging her own way as an independent artist, one for whom the past offered a way forward.

By 1997, on return to Nguiu, her inherited palette of dark red, deep yellow ochres and black and formal, schematic compositions of pwanga amintiya marlipinyini [dots and lines], gave way to a more dynamic gestural breadth in painting and a varied palette, with greater confidence in conception and execution – her self-styled “crooked painting”.

Whilst her first figurative renditions of tutuni [ceremonial poles], japalingini [head bands], pamijini [armbands], tunga [painted bark baskets] or Tiwi ancestors rendered in sculptural form have in time recurred in her painting, she is also known for her striking geometric, cross-hatched and abstract compositions: jilamara in its purest and most distilled form.

Numwariyaka 2006 draws inspiration from the range of traditional ceremonial and fighting spears or sticks carved and painted for Pukumani or Kulama ceremonies. Arawinikirri [the double-barbed spear] is a long heavy weapon, symbolising female Tiwi. The numwariyaka spear – long, thin and usually carried in bundles – is associated with male Tiwi. The birth of a male child may be announced by this term.

In this painting, Jean’s rendition of portable ceremonial weapons is subtly but powerfully re-fashioned through colour: a muted, pastel palette of green, pink and pale blue offers a softer dimension to the traditional ochres of red, yellow and white, transforming them into secular subjects of aesthetic consideration. Their decorative – rather than functional – properties prevail.

Jean Baptiste Apuatimi has participated in numerous group exhibitions since 1991 and held more than twelve solo exhibitions since 1997, most recently in London at Rebecca Hossack Gallery in 2009.

Her work was acquired by the British Museum following this show, and she is also represented in most major Australian public collections and galleries, numerous corporate collections and several public museums abroad.

Numwariyaka 2006, along with other examples of her paintings and tunga, will feature in the CDU Art Collection & Art Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition of Tiwi Design art, opening on April 22, 2010.

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection & Art Gallery
29 March 2010

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