Saturday 1 November 2008 saw the sad passing of a Kimberley legend. As an artist, bushman and ceremonial leader, Ngarra was without peer in his generation. His passing has left a legacy of cultural and historical significance that will take several generations to fully comprehend. It is with great honour that Mossenson Galleries present this very special exhibition of the final works from this unheralded Andinyin master.
Ngarra: The Late Works be opened at 2pm on Saturday 28 March 2009 with a floortalk by Dr Diane Mossenson as part of the inaugural Collingwood Arts Precinct Open Day.
Ngarra held his first exhibition at Mossenson Galleries in Perth in 1996 and went on to have 9 solo exhibitions and participate in over 50 group exhibitions throughout Australia as well as Europe and Asia. In 2000 he was honoured with a solo exhibition at the Western Australian Museum, where his painting Dalalnger hangs on permanent display.
He is represented in many of the nation’s leading collections including the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria. A five time finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, he was also invited to participate in many of Australia’s leading contemporary art prizes.
And yet, in an art world in which the gloss of ‘superstars’ shines brightly, Ngarra remained a somewhat unheralded artistic figure, overshadowed by the success of many of his contemporaries. To his peers, however, he was a figure of singular importance, whose knowledge of culture, law and mythology was unparalleled in his generation. To those familiar with his artwork, he stood at the forefront of contemporary art; a prodigious artistic innovator and inimitable chronicler of Indigenous knowledge. In November 2008, as the Kimberley landscape prepared itself for the coming of the rains, Ngarra died peacefully in his home from complications secondary to pneumonia.
Ngarra’s paintings transform elements of his traditional and station life into compelling visual and political statements. To Ngarra, painting presented both a personal and political mission to record his ‘really bush contracts’ in the face of corporate development and encroachments on traditional culture. And yet, his works are equally defined by their visual inventiveness, humour and wit, and their joyful sense of experimentation. An artist of unparalleled depth, he felt as confident using ochres as acrylics; as interpreting traditional stories or presenting wry commentaries of station life. Ngarra’s privileged cultural position meant that he felt free to innovate and adapt his imagery for visual and allegorical effect. His dedication to both his art and culture inspired his peers.
Ngarra was a unique individual: an artist whose work spoke of ancient knowledge systems, whilst maintaining an entirely contemporary vision of artistic experimentation and innovation. Ngarra: The Late Works presents some of the final paintings produced by this great master of Kimberley art. They show an artist at the end of his career and yet, still bursting with creativity and inspiration. Honest, unassuming artistic expression must ultimately enrich a greater symbolic and archetypal tradition; Ngarra aimed to create works that conveyed his personal story and proud heritage, rather than conforming to the expectations of the Indigenous art world. This final, distinguished body of works are the last chapter in this important chronicle of a passing Indigenous worldview.
As Shaw has noted, Ngarra was ‘one of the few remaining people on earth who lived through the superimposition of pastoral capital over the hunter-gatherer way of life.’ This very fact gives his work a historical and cultural significance that is yet to be fully appreciated. But one cannot overlook the singular artistic vision that is reflected in his works, which sparkle with the fire of artistic experimentation.
Text copyright Mossenson Galleries