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Kunmanara (Mumu Mike) Williams

b. 1952

d. 2019

 

“Our Tjukurpa has suffered and withstood many onslaughts; for instance, the arrival of Captain Cook. The effect of those people arriving was similar to a huge whirlwind, a whirlwind that stormed our country and caused untold damage. It was wrongly stated that Australia was an empty land. But this is not true, because we have a land filled with named rockholes and ancient cultural heritage everywhere! When I heard about that I said to myself, ‘Oh I see, I’m going to do a painting about that!’ When everyone saw my painting, they must have thought, ‘Hey, that’s fascinating! We white people have a lot to think about here. This is an important story.’”

(Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams, Kulinmaya! Keep listening, everybody!, p. 75)

 

Kunmanara (Mumu Mike) Williams was born in 1952 in Inturtjanu on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of South Australia, and became one of the most renowned political artists of the country. He learnt to read and write in Pitjantjatjara and English at the Ernabella Mission School, before working as a stockman and carpenter. As a young man, he was active in the APY Land Rights movement that led to the signing of the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act in 1981 and the return of land to Anangu. Ever since, he remained politically active, advocating for his country and people through his art and stories.

 

Williams travelled the world for work, but always returned to his obligations as a senior man and traditional custodian. As a renowned ngangkari (traditional healer), pastor of the Mimili Community church and political activist, he proudly shared and protected the knowledge and duties given to him through his culture. In his art practice, he addressed issues including governance, sustainable land management, the protection of sacred heritage sites, and the rights of traditional owners.

 

Mr Williams exhibited widely nationally and internationally, always remaining true to his vision as a cultural leader. He finished writing his monograph and autobiography “Kulinmaya! Keep listening, everybody!” shortly before his passing. The book embodies some of the core ideas within Mr Williams' practice: the passing on of knowledge to the next generation, the importance of language for a resilient Culture, as well as the urgent reminder to keep listening to traditional owners. “Kulinmaya!” has been distributed in schools and libraries across the country and is due to keep his voice alive for generations to come.

 

Mr Williams was invited to exhibit as part of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney and conceived a last ambitious project before his passing, which has been executed by Mimili Maku Arts, guided by his widow Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin and long-term collaborator Sammy Dodd alongside many community participants.