Lena Kuriniya

<strong>Lena Kuriniya</strong><br/>Born c.1939-2003<br/>Language: Ndjébbana/Kuninjku <br/>Region: Central Arnhem Land <br/>Clan: Nganayerrburala <br/>Moiety: Dhuwa<br/>Subsection: Wamuddjan <br/>Outstation/country: Barrihdjowkkeng, Kurrindin (near Maningrida, NT)<br/><br/><i>Marebu manbulubi </i>(Pandanus mats and bush potato) 2002<br/> Drypoint etching (Workshop Proof, edn 20)<br/>25 x 20.5cm [image]; 40 x 50cm [paper]<br/>Collaborator: Monique Auricchio<br/>Printer: Simon White <br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – CDU996<br/>Gifted by the artist & Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop, 2002 <br/>Image courtesy the artist’s estate & Maningrida Arts & Culture, NT

The late Lena Kuriniya was the wife of renowned pioneer mimih sculptor, song and ceremonial law elder Crusoe (Caruso) Kuningbal (c.1922-1984), and mother of Maningrida Arts and Culture artists Owen Yalandja, Timothy Wulanjbirr and Crusoe Kurddal.

Kuriniya began working autonomously as an artist following her husband’s demise in the mid-1980s, carving and painting mimih figures in the manner instructed by him, gradually evolving her own repertoire of vivacious, smaller-scaled figures in the characteristic Kuningbal style of red ochre ground with black and white punctuated dotting.

She is recognised as being the first female Kuninjku artist to produce carvings in a consistent fashion, whilst maintaining and extending her practice as a skilled fibre artist and in later life, a printmaker of note.

Kuriniya’s first forays into printmaking took place under the auspices of the Maningrida Women’s Centre and Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop (NTU School of Art), in Maningrida and at the then Northern Territory University, between 1997 and 2002.

Along with a number of women artists from the community, she investigated new pictorial themes not depicted in bark paintings produced at this time, which reflected her preoccupations as both an accomplished weaver and sculptor.

In Marebu manbulubi, the artist has selected subject matter intimately related to women’s knowledge of country and its local flora, in this case as a source of nourishment. Here, the sinuous and undulating plant forms of the flowering and fruit-laden bush potato frame the spider web-like filaments of woven mats.

Expressed through the medium of drypoint etching, with its burred lines and tonal subtleties, the relationship between the natural world and human creativity become cosmically intertwined. In other etchings produced at this time, Kuriniya depicted plants directly related to her practice as a fibre artist.

Fibre objects such as mats, dilly bags and fish traps, many captured in the Maningrida region’s vast galleries of rock art, embody the cultural and spiritual as well as the quotidian: they function as utilitarian items whilst carrying resonances of ancestral presences drawn from, and at one with, the natural environment and its flora and fauna.

Hetti Perkins, Senior Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of NSW has observed that the “success of much printmaking by Kuninjku women artists lies in the synergy between the physicality of the etching process and the harvesting and manipulation of fibre. The tactility of fibre plants and objects is imparted in the graphic, hewn quality of the etched image”.

Kuriniya’s work is represented in numerous public collections, including the Art Gallery of WA, the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the National Maritime Museum, Sydney, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the Kluge Foundation, Virginia, USA.

The Charles Darwin University Art Collection has eight etchings by Kuriniya in its holdings, created between 1997 and 2002, gifted by the artist and Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop (School of Art) during this period. A selection of Kuriniya’s prints and sculptures were exhibited in the Art Gallery of NSW’s landmark exhibition, Crossing Country: The alchemy of western Arnhem Land art (2004).

[Sources: Crossing Country: The alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004.]

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery
3 June 2010

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