Issue 3
Monday, 30 April 2018
Charles Darwin University
Art teacher Suzi Lyon with Utju artists Lorraine Donald and Joy Kunia
Art teacher Suzi Lyon with Utju artists Lorraine Donald and Joy Kunia

Utju artists return Mona Lisa’s smile

By Patrick Nelson

Western art’s most famous portrait has served as a point of reference for a series of self-portraits to be exhibited during the iconic Desert Mob Aboriginal art festival in Alice Springs this year.

Ten women from Utju (Areyonga), 220km west of Alice Springs, spent a week at Charles Darwin University recently, learning and practising the fine art of portrait painting as part of the Certificate II in Visual Arts. 

Lecturer Suzi Lyon said they were all highly accomplished artists in the traditional styles of the western desert, but still keen to expand their skill set with other ideas.

“They practised techniques for blending skin tones, the painting of faces and hands, and for representing light on folds of fabric,” Ms Lyon said.

“The idea for the portraits came from the beautiful attire of the Central Desert Choir, which many of the artists belong to.”

Ms Lyon said the artists looked at several portraits, but particularly liked the pose of Leonardo Da Vinci’s 16th Century masterpiece.

“We observed the elegant but slightly sideways pose of Mona Lisa, the arrangement of her hands and the peaceful expression of a woman looking out at the world.”

But in contrast to Mona Lisa’s dark and plain attire, the Utju women wore bright colours and strong patterns for their self-portraits. Most added a personal touch, with a beanie, scarf or necklace, and in one case the artist is holding a cup of tea.

Ms Lyon said the acrylic works would be framed and exhibited in The Residency in September.