“Our Tjukurpa Law is all-encompassing. It was always intended to be eternal, but we know it is at risk. This is why I a documenting it now. I want to raise people’s consciousness. I want us to be acknowledged by the wider society and the government. I am hoping to start a movement of new awareness.” (Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams, 2019)
Our late Elder and art centre director Kunmanara Williams was invited to participate in the Biennale of Sydney before his passing in March 2019. His vision for the exhibition was a large-scale political protest piece, working with the young men in Mimili to show to the world that Tjukurpa was still strong, that language was still alive, and that there was much left to learn from Anangu traditional owners.
Even though Kunmanara passed away before realising this project, his legacy has been carried forwards by Community. Guided by his widow Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin and his lifelong friend and collaborator Sammy Dodd, Mimili Maku Arts has facilitated the execution of the project, celebrating the significance of Kunmanara’s words.
Whilst Kunmanara was a highly political artist, he first and foremost was an orator and activist. He always believed in the power of words, spoken or written, and in the potency of art to create real political changes. He was one of the founders of Mimili Maku Arts as well as the APY Art Centre Collective, both envisioned to increase agency for remote Anangu artists.
This final project celebrates the raw strengths of Kunmanara’s words: All writings have been selected from his personal archive by Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin and Sammy Dodd. The banners were brought back to country, gathering marks of the land, of being read, of being carried forward into the next generation. In this process the Art Gallery of New South Wales becomes a snapshot of the ongoing conversation the piece summons. After the Biennale, the banners will be sent back to Mimili for an installation on country in 2021. The process of sending the banners back and forth evoke the Australia Post mailbags that Kunmanara used to co-opt for his art practice, a way of sending letters and petitions to government via the gallery wall with the strengths and precision of the spear. This final installation of protest banners has taken on a life of its own, bridging gaps between disparate parts of Australia, and urging the audiences to listen and learn.
This project was made possible through the generous support of the Australia Council for the Arts and the Fondation Opale.
Click on any of the images below to visit the exhibition digitally through Google Arts & Culture.
You can also download a print-out poster with the key messages of the exhibition for your personal use
‘Our Tjukurpa Law is not ending. We convey our Law messages to our young men to help the along in life, so that they always have the old knowledge around them. … I use the Tjukurpa, which was given to me by my grandfather. This is my weapon, my Law, my Tjukurpa. This ancient power is as potent as ever. … To you all in the city: Are you getting my message? This is Aboriginal land.’ (Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams, 2018)
Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin, Alex Baker, Matjangka Norris and Sally Scales (f.l.t.r.) at the opening reception of the Biennale of Sydney at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Photograph: Zan Wimberley.
Image credits: Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams, Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin, Sammy Dodd and the artists of Mimili Maku Arts, Kulilaya munu nintiriwa (Listen and learn), 2020. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Art Gallery of New South Wales. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from Australia Council for the Arts and Fondation Opale. Courtesy Mimili Maku Arts. Photograph: Zan Wimberley.