Issue 7
Monday, 03 September 2018
Charles Darwin University
Dr Jennifer Taylor and Suzi Lyon admiring the “Utju Lisa” self-portraits
Dr Jennifer Taylor and Suzi Lyon admiring the “Utju Lisa” self-portraits

Mysterious ‘Utju Lisa’ portraits on display

By Patrick Nelson

The self-portraits on display in The Residency convey a sense of wonder, celebration and mystery, Charles Darwin University alumni Dr Jennifer Taylor said at the opening of “Utju Lisa”, which is exhibiting in Alice Springs until 11 September.

“There’s an element of play too, which comes partly from the choice to dress up in special fabrics,” she said.

“They’re playing with us (the viewer); what are they communicating and what are they holding back, perhaps shyly or slyly?”

Dr Taylor said each of the 10 paintings was like the Mona Lisa in that they focused on the face, the hands and the body of the person being portrayed.

“It’s such a fun idea to dress up and pose in a way like the Mona Lisa,” she said.

The 10 women artists from Utju (Areyonga), west of Alice Springs, are members of the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, renowned for their spectacular attire as well as for their singing.

“While it wasn’t possible to use their choir costumes for their self-portraits, they have created a similar effect by wearing special fabrics to express inner qualities that are not always on show,” Dr Taylor said.

“Dressing up lets you play with how you’re going to present yourself. You can make choices around who you’re going to be, what you say about yourself and to the viewer. Making a self-portrait is a profound practice for an artist.”

Dr Taylor said people had puzzled about Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece for centuries, and that one of its enduring qualities was the mystery surrounding her mood.

“These portraits have achieved something similar. When you walk into this gallery and see everyone's portrait lined up, you get a slight shiver. Who is this blessed company; what are they doing here like this and what is each one's gaze saying?”

The Ujtu artists, accomplished as they are in the traditions of Western Desert painting, this year completed a “portraiture” unit with CDU lecturer Suzi Lyon at Alice Springs campus as part of a certificate course in Visual Arts.