A sophisticated artist whispers the secrets of life to those willing to listen, observe and appreciate.
With a startling passion, Loongkoonan, from Nyikina on the banks of the Mardoowarra river, “People of the River”, presents to the world a perspective quickly disappearing.
Raising contemporary art to a new level of expression, Loongkoonan invites each person into the full experience of her culture, history and depth of her soul as entwined with the land and being of the River. Borders and yet, no borders. A language of self, experience and nature as seen in her composition, colors, textures along with a rich luminous shimmer as would be found by the water’s edge. Loongkoonan expands the understanding of nonlinear perspectives of landscape, self-portrait and culture into one dynamic fluid story of what it means to be Yimardoowarra, being of the essence of Mardoowarra River.
Loongkoonan’s first painting is completely balanced between colors, design, and texture. The eye follows and the mind begins to question. Rapidly, her paintings become more complex playing with “ma” or “negative space”. Loongkoonan’s later paintings become a full orchestra of perspectives, as though she is speaking rapidly to use every last breath to convey the missing stories before it is too late and forever gone.
Within a five year span, from 2004 to 2009, Loongkoonan painted 380 canvases with a vigor one would expect to be physically challenging and emotionally draining. Encouraged by her niece, Loongkoonan first started painting when she was in her mid-90s. The full appreciation of Loongkoonan’s work in one space is extraordinary.
Yimardoowarra: Artist of the River is curated by Henry F. Skerritt, an author and art historian on Australian Aboriginal art. Skerritt presents a full expression of Loongkoonan’s identity.
Loongkoonan was born in 1910 at the Mount Anderson Station near the Fitzroy River. During the wet seasons the station would shut down allowing stationhands from the Aboriginal community to return to their sacred land to speak their own language and practice their own traditions and ceremonies. The culture was preserved. Despite later challenges of forced integration with other Aboriginal communities who had different languages and customs, Loongkoonan maintained her culture and knowledge, and, today, is the elder of Nyikina, recognized as the “custodian of language, culture and Law.”
Perspectives. Skerritt shares in the accompanying catalogue for the exhibit that Loongkoonan’s work should not be confused with “modernist notions of genius or inspiration.” In fact, Skerritt notes, “In part, this is because the identity of both country and self is defined a priori by Bookarrarra (the Dreaming). Bookarrarra is not restricted to the past, but is expressed in the present as a feature to be known of place. At the same time, it is a feature of place that requires articulation the concept of ‘caring for country’ is as much an act of representation (requiring the singing of songs, the performance of ceremony, the speaking of names) as it is a physical process (burning, learning, and land management).
Do we really understand the language of the Aboriginal artists? Can we translate their perspectives and relevance into young societies with advanced technologies?
When I was young I footwalked all over Nyikina country. Footwalking is the proper (only) way to learn about country and remember it. I paint Nyikina country the same way that eagles see country when they are high up in the sky.
For the Aboriginal art movement, almost 100 years old, Skerritt says Loongkoonan is “using everything she has got, systemically producing stories about her connection to place.” He shares, “If anything, they are marked by an urgency to record the sacred places, or booroo, of Nyikina country.”
Loongkoonan has received numerous awards including the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, the Wynne Prize, the Blake Prize and the 2016 Adelaide Biennial; and, is currently represented by the Mossenson Galleries in Perth, Australia.
Skerritt’s dream is that one day that the Metropolitian Museum of Art (Met) in New York City also present exquisite Australian Aboriginal art. Skerritt says,
“Aboriginal Australian culture represents the most glorious civilizations that ever marked the planet. There are civilizations that now have continuously lived under one place for 40,000 years. They deserve to be heralded alongside the greats of the Greeks, the Renaissance, and the miraculous works of African art that they have at the Met. So the Met would be the right place.”
Skerritt recognizes that great artists are always the 0.01% and transcends all. Their body of work speaks to the world. Loongkoonan is one of these great artists.
By Keri Douglas, founder and publisher of 9MusesNews.com, a web magazine on new trends in art, business and science. This article is copyright protected. All photographs are used with permission and are attributed to the collection of Diane and Dan Mossenson, Perth, Western Australia with Copyright by the Artist and courtesy of Mossenson Galleries. All rights are reserved.
A special thank you to curator Henry Skerritt for his time to share his expertise with me on this very special collection of art by Loongkoonan.
The Yimardoowarra: Artist of the River exhibit will be open to the public from now until April 26, 2016 at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, D.C. and then will travel to the University of Virginia to presented at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection between from May 13, 2016 to August 21, 2016.