Exhibition review: Pantini Kalijarrala Ngatiki, Wapami Kalijarra Wirliyala, Suzanne O’Connell Gallery

Warlpiri sisters Julie Nangala Robertson and Sabrina Nangala Robertson celebrate Country, Culture and heritage with transportive works.

Julie Nangala Robertson and Sabrina Nangala Robertson are Warlpiri sisters, who paint in memory of their mothers and grandmothers, and who walk the footsteps of their ancestors – spiritual women who helped to shape the Earth and inform their surviving Cultural knowledge. Their mother being the late, renowned artist, Dorothy Napangardi, the two sisters transfer the techniques, overall unique aesthetic (and unmistakable talent) of their kin. In addition, they also bring forth their own visual language – adding to the continued enrichment of their peoples (an immense Cultural dedication and service).

This exhibition, Pantini Kalijarrala Ngatiki, Wapami Kalijarra Wirliyala (Painting for our Mother, Walking in her Footsteps), is the sisters celebrating their Country, Culture and heritage. Sabrina’s works are centred on the lore of Ngapa Jukurrpa (Water Dreaming) of Pirlinyarnu (a place of lightning and rain). Whereas Julie’s works most often to speak of the waters of Pirlinyarnu, as well as their mother’s birth site of Mina Mina (salt lake landscape). Both are Kirdas, or Owners, of these stories and of the Country depicted. Water is a present theme of these works and stories associated with this element, remaining a continued inspiration for the artists.

The exhibition is relatively small compared to the fanfare and throngs of the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) awards night, where Julie Nangala Robertson recently won the Telstra General Painting Award (2023). Judges honoured her artwork Mina Mina (2022) also on display in the exhibition. This awarded work is a mesmerising reconceptualisation of Mina Mina (as are most of the works featured), which is a very sacred place to Napanangka and Napangardi women. Sheer ‘optical brilliance’ is how the Robertson sisters’ works have been described, imbued with immense sentimental depth, as each work honours their mother’s and grandmother’s Jukurrpa.

Together with her sister, this is Julie’s first exhibition since her esteemed recognition. Housed at the Suzanne O’Connell Gallery in inner city Brisbane/Meanjin, the works are shown with a soft touch. Spatially, the proximity of the Gallery’s modest, yet stylish, showroom has an incredible influence on the viewer’s experience taking in these purposefully intricate, delicate and colourful pieces. The notion that these works depict spiritual, raw and beautiful Country – from a place far away and with much expanse – adds to the transportive power of the Robertsons’ skills as master artists, but also to the immersive experience of the viewer.

Read: Performance review: The Journey Down, WA

Julie Nangala Robertson and Sabrina Nangala Robertson continue to tell the stories of their people and translate their Country through painting. This exhibition is worthy of visiting while you still can, to behold some of the very best and most important Indigenous art in Australia, today.

Pantini Kalijarrala Ngatiki, Wapami Kalijarra Wirliyala is on show until 24 September at the Suzanne O’Connell Gallery (93 James Street, New Farm, Brisbane/Meanjin), presented in association with Warlukurlangu Artists.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Jack Wilkie-Jans is an Indigenous affairs advocate (and qualified Politologist), Indigenous arts worker, arts writer, and emerging multimedia artist (abstract painter, filmmaker, and photographer). Born in Gimuy/Cairns, he hails from Weipa and Mapoon (Teppathiggi and Tjungundji), Cape York Peninsula; and, has ancestral links to England and Scotland (Wilkie), Vanuatu (Ling), Denmark (Jans), and the Gulf of Carpentaria (Waanji).