Menzies Art Brands



Judy Watson was born at Yarungkanji, Mount Doreen Station, a cattle station north-west of Alice Springs. This was at a time when the Warlpiri, indigenous peoples of the Tanami Desert, were following a traditional nomadic life travelling on foot throughout their country, hunting and collecting bush tucker. Whilst moving about the Warlpiri country, Judy and her family were able to stay on their ancestral homes at Mina Mina and Yingipurlangu, in the area between the Tanami and Gibson deserts. Time spent at these sites deepened Judys connection to her country. Mina Mina, near Lake Mackay in the Tanami Desert, is a major womens ceremonial site where, according to Womens Dreaming, Warlpiri ancestors collected ceremonial digging sticks (kana or karlangu) that materialised from the ground then, as they proceeded from their epic journey, performed ritual songs and dances. The significance of Mina Mina was such that much of Judys subject matter elaborates Dreamings associated with it.

Judy was taught painting by her older sister, Maggie Napangardi Watson, and from 1986 began creating work as part of the Warlurkurlangku Artists Aboriginal Association, one of the most influential and successful indigenous art centres in the Northern Territory. Together the two sisters developed a unique style of painting that was characterised by coloured sinuous lines created by using a dragged dotting style said to mimic the ancestral dance of their female ancestors as they moved across the desert in long lines. By criss-crossing all areas of the canvas with these twisting lines, as Judy does in My Dreaming, these paintings take on the appearance of a splendidly textured surface that evokes both the movement of her ancestors and the land through which they danced, the complexity of the design elucidating parts of a long narrative that would have also been told in oral stories, songs and dances.

My Dreaming is also a representative example of the more abstract rendering of Womens Dreaming that characterised Warlpiri women artists work. This Womens Dreaming (Karnta-kurlangu Jukurrpa) also relates to Digging Sticks Dreaming (Karna-kurlangu Jukurrpa) because the sticks enabled the ancestral women to complete their journey. Like diving rods leading them to sacred sites, the women carried these sticks in their outstretched hands as they danced across the desert on their way encountering other important Dreaming sites and at certain points being possessed by special powers. As well as representing the land itself, linear patterning, seen as both connecting and sinuous lines, is another important feature of Judys work representing amongst other things, hair string rubbed with red ochre used as a belt and tassels that also symbolise their spiritual connection to the land.

The flowing lines can also be symbolic of the snake vine, which was used to bind branches and feathers to the ceremonial dancers body. Judys work is thus ripe with both literal and metaphorical meaning and this complexity is indicative of a sophisticated spiritual narrative. In this work this spiritual significance related to Judys country is further emphasised by her choice of bold colouration to indicate both her celebration of the land itself as well as the womens movement across it. As elaborated by Christine Nicholls what, to the western eye may seem like a desert of undifferentiated colour, was to Judy and her people perceived as a large and colourful garden bursting with energy.1

Access to synthetic paints enabled Judy to celebrate this abundance in a burst of colour and her recent works, like My Dreaming, are often characterised by a profusion of bright primary and secondary colours. What makes Warlpiri canvases exciting is the ability of artists like Judy to embrace such new technology as a means of enhancing and expanding a centuries old spiritual connection to their country. In My Dreaming, bold colour further enlivens a surface that here, through the use of the juxtaposition of forms and patterns, intimates the motion of ritual dance through sacred country.


1. Nicholls, C., The Three Napangardis: to the Memory of Maggie Napangardi Watson, in Ryan, J., Colour Power: Aboriginal Art Post 1984 in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, 2004, p.124

Dr. Gary Hickey Grad Dip SUT;
Fellowship RMIT, MA Melb.; PhD UQ

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