Lajamanu Banner and Mural Project 1989

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Lajamanu, North Tanami Desert, Northern Territory, Australia.

After being part of an artists team involved in a community theatre residency program in the Aboriginal community of Lajamanu, Tim Newth was invited to stay on to work with the community on visual arts project. The project involving working with Lajamanu artists in creation of the communities first public murals and banners.

It was only two years earlier these artists made their first foray into painting.

Notes from Artist Letters - Tim Newth

Following are extracts from letters Tim wrote weekly during the project. The letters are an expression of the project, and of his developing relationship with the community and culture:

"It has come to a sudden stop, it’s pretty scary, the whole community seems to be howling. I gather someone has died. This has been going on for the past hour and I can now see some women painted up walking across the oval. The rest of the community seems to be following or looking. The sound is like nothing I have heard before. A young man has been killed in a car crash.

…getting the right design has got me around a lot of people, everybody wanting something different but finally I found, or was pointed to, a dreaming which belongs to here.

Last night Teddy Jupurrurla Morrison , the owner of the mural design, sung the design to me.

The banner project on the weekend in my house - there were six women, one baby, a dog, a cat and I don’t know how many kids but the result was two banners finished and two more on the go.

Most of the senior boys from the school have found at least one pair of pants they want me to mend.

Lily Nungarrayi Hargraves (an elder who will later work on the women's mural) takes me into her room which she locks behind us to keep out the dogs and kids to show me her latest painting.

More than any project I have wanted to do before, my time here is for my development as an artist working in Australia. It is this Warlpiri culture that I wish to understand, how art is part of people lifes.

In asking why there has been no public art eg. Murals etc. The comment was that this was not Warlpiri land. But it is the land of the young people born here. (Lajamanu, was established by the Native Affairs Branch of the Federal Government in the late 1940s, when 25 Warlpiri people were trucked there from Yuendumu. In 1951 a further 150 Warlpiri were trucked there from Yuendumu against their will.)

Doug  Japangardi Tasman has asked me to go to the next men’s business camp, this is when all the men’s information is passed on …

Through the sewing machines being set up at home the kids now come in, thread up, and use the machines well. One is going to make a banner but has to learn her dreaming first…

Mural two begins with talking to Lily Nungarrayi Hargraves… Next morning she is there with another woman and two old men; they talk for a long time deciding what dreamings should be used as this mural is more a storyboard, its for young kids. I am told that all the painting so far belongs to Jampijinpa and Nampijinpa which allows me to also paint. (Tim was given the skin name of Jampijinpa on an earlier visit to Lajamanu) The women spend much time drawing things in the sand and explaining things before we begin… The mural women took me hunting for goannas on the weekend.

One teacher asks me to make large creatures with the kids, so have been working with them on how to split the bamboo and construct things with it. Have also been giving support to the senior girls’ teacher who is working with sewing.

Mural two is finished … a delight to work on. The women worked hard and they were great at hassling each other if they thought someone was being lazy or sloppy.

Mural three on the small water tank beside the Wulaign out-station resource centre, came out of the old men standing around watching the women paint, making sure they got it right. One man, Freddy Jangala Patrick, gave me dreamings to paint with the women on their wall but also asked “what about the men?” So on the Wednesday morning there was much talk followed by me being asked if I had a car. One man took me to see trees, tracks, water holes; it is to here that the young people who are being born belong, their dreaming places.

The next day a Yapa man from Wulaign and two others about my age undercoat the tank. The corrugated surface is a challenging surface to paint. I was continually being taken away to be shown paintings and photos in Wulaign which the old men wanted to show me. In the end, the Freddy Jangala Patrick decided he and I should paint and so that is what is happening. Although I don’t know what it means in the context of the world for me to be painting, the experience is rewarding so far, with each brush-stroke containing layers of meaning. The men, as the women did, stand around hassling about colour or what bit can’t go next to this. I don’t often know what is going on or being said, but if I live by the golden rule that Jangala told me "when the time is right you will be told”.

The sewn banners now seem to happen on the weekends and evenings. The four larger ones went up in the school this week. My first male started sewing this week and two new women began this weekend. The part I most enjoy is going with the women to their families to OK the design with their parents or grandparents and making sure with them that it is fine for it to go on a banner. I love when the designs are sung as the men draw.

Tuesday morning and I feel completely stuffed after driving a car load of people all night from the sports weekend in the neighbouring community of Yuendumu (about 500km). But I am back painting this morning …

Banners in the school have created a lot of interest, in particular from the older women, one has started her own while I was away.…

All the banners that I wish to complete this time around have been started with seven completed and six to do. There are three directions this part of the project can go, with interest in all. One is to try and market them for sale and set up interest in an exhibition; or the other which is to keep filling Lajamanu windows; or to simply develop sewing skills. The need to make and repair clothes is great.

Mural three is still just the two of us. Equal time is spent out in the bush looking at Dreamtime sites. Jangala has brought in two other people, not to paint, but to instruct how to paint two of the dreamings, as all the dreamings on the tank belong to this area. There is still much talk by the larger group of men before a new dreaming is painted.

Two older women started this week … it was the first time they had seen a sewing machine, let alone use one.

The Wulaign mural is still moving on, often we will work solidly for a day on one section or dreaming to be asked by Jangala a few days later to paint it out. The most recent one to paint out was done not because the dreaming was wrong but because of its relationship to the one next to it.

Strong winds all week, much dust, only one day’s mural painting. Painted the Parma dreaming, Parma being the flying ant. So mural three continues. Banners have been with the now three older women … They have much more knowing than the young. They have all started a second banner.

The wind has stopped blowing for one day so the mural is now complete … Two of the older women showed me their drawings from bible study using traditional designs. They thought they would make a good mural so I have been following this up with the church.
I work at the school each morning with the class is putting together a play with the large-scale creatures out of bamboo and paper we made

After 8 weeks 19 banners ended up being made. Sewing classes start next week by nine women making skirts, shirts, bags etc …
I feel for me to work further in Lajamanu is important to commit too. My last weekend has been spent giving time to people who had given me time. This meant things like taking up a pairs of pants and finishing off some Aboriginal flag pillow cases.”

1989

Under Brown’s Mart Community Arts – Executive Officer Ken Conway
Dance Development Office: Sarah Calver

 

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