Ngarralja Tommy May

<strong>Ngarralja Tommy May</strong><br/>Born c.1935, Yarrnkurnja, Great Sandy Desert, WA<br/><br/><i>Untitled (Two Styles of Headdress) </i>2008, edn 13/15 <br/>Etching on cotton rag paper 64.5 x 44cm [image]; 76 x 57cm [paper]<br/> Charles Darwin University Art Collection – CDU2417<br/> Acquired by purchase through the CDU Foundation from Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency, Fitzroy Crossing, 2013 <br/>Image © the artist & courtesy Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency, Fitzroy Crossing, WA

Ngarralja Tommy May is a Wangkatjunga/Walmajarri elder who resides at Mindi Rardi Community in Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia. He was born in Yarrnkurnja in the Great Sandy Desert and was taught and raised traditionally. By the time May made contact with kartiya (non-Indigenous people), he was already a mature young man set with self-sufficient skills of the bush. May recalls:

I was big when I left my country. I was already hunting by myself. I was with my young brother and my mother. My father had passed away by this time. I know these stories and these places in my country. I paint these now. (Mangkaja Arts, Fitzroy Crossing)

May has been an influential member of the Fitzroy Crossing community for more than 30 years. He was one of the founding members of the Karrayili Adult Education Centre, established in 1981. Karrayili was a response to the community’s need to learn to read and write in their traditional languages and also in English.

As an artist and community elder, May has significantly contributed to the growth and resilience of Aboriginal arts and culture in his country and throughout Northern Australia. He has held the positions of Deputy Chairman for Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency Aboriginal Cooperation, Chairman of the Kimberly Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC) and was a member of the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA) Board of Directors for 21 years.

May utilises painting and printmaking to tell stories of his land, his Dreaming and ceremony. Two Styles of Headdress depicts the ritual objects used in the rainmaking ceremony at Kurtal, a sacred and “living waterhole” or jila.

The fine lines within the work detail the woollen thread used to wrap around the paperbark structure of the headdresses. May explains that “the two headdresses on the top are called warnta warnta (clouds and rain times)” which are worn by holding the article above the head, supported by holding the looped handles on either side and inserting the face in the middle loop. The second headdress is known as nartarri, and “the straight up one” is coomadong, tall and conical in appearance.

May has presented figurative elements and objects in his work with a panoramic spatial sensibility so it may be viewed from various angles or perspectives. Large horizontal and vertical details create a grid-like structure, highlighting individual elements of the composition.

The clarity and confidence of May’s drawing and mark-making are characteristic of prints by other Fitzroy Crossing artist-printmakers, including Paji Honeychild Yankarr, Jukuna Mona Chuguna, Tjigila Nada Rawlins and Maryanne Downs, although May’s graphic work has continued to incorporate figuration.

May has exhibited nationally and internationally for more than 20 years, his work first appearing in Images of Power, a group exhibition of Kimberley art held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1993. His work is represented in many collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, Flinders University Art Museum and the Berndt Museum of Anthropology.

 
Eileen Lim
Exhibitions and Collection Officer, CDU Art Collection and Art Gallery
 
 
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