Acclaimed Martumili artists’ work lights up the Opera House for Vivid festival

Internationally acclaimed Martumili artists from WA’s East Pilbara have illuminated the Sydney Opera House as part of the Vivid Sydney Festival.

Yarrkalpa – Hunting Ground depicts the area around Parnngurr — a remote community on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert — and shows the seasons, burning practices and cycles of regrowth, hunting, land management and natural resources.

Manyjilyjarra woman Ngarga Thelma Judson was born in the Great Sandy Desert in the mid-1950s and lived nomadically with her family around the area of ​​the Yimiri and Kurturarra water sources.

That was until 1964 when the family were tracked ahead of government military weapons testing in the area and they relocated to Jigalong.

A close up of a serious grey-haired Indigenous woman holding up a painting.
Manyjilyjarra woman Ngarga Thelma Judson is one of the Martumilli artists who painted Yarrkalpa – Hunting Ground. (Supplied: Martumili Arts)

Mrs Judson and her family have lived in Parnngurr since the 1980s, when they moved there during the return to country movement.

She is one of the Martumili artists who painted Yarrkalpa in 2013.

“Big mob… me, my sister, Rina, everybody in Parnngurr. It take us two week and a half.

“They go and hunt and light a big fire and look around. Sometimes they kill a dingo. Long time but not now, we in town.”

She said she was happy with how that painting looked on the Opera House.

“It’s good,” Mrs Judson said.

“It’s coming out good colour. All the color comes out, all the trees.”

A close-up of an Indigenous art painting with vivid reds, yellows and some shades of pastels.
Yarrkalpa – Hunting Ground depicts the area around Parnngurr. (supplied)

Martumili Arts is based in Parnpajinya — or Newman — but also has artists living right across the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts, as well as the Karlamilyi area.

Many of those artists live in the remote communities of Jigalong, Punmu, Kunawarritji, Irrungadji, Warralong and Parnngurr.

Another of the eight Martumili artists who painted Yarrkulpa was Ngalanka Nola Taylor. She was born Wirrinyalkujarra, north east of Punmu, and now lives in Parnngurr.

She said Yarrkalpa was a map of their ngurra or home country.

“It’s about storytelling, what we used to do,” Ms Taylor said.

The animation and display of Yarrkalpa across the sails of the Opera House have been done by creative technologists Curiious.

It is accompanied by a soundtrack from electronic music duo Electric Fields, made up of Zaachariaha Fielding and Michael Ross.

The music combined vocals from Martu artists and Antara singers from Feilding’s Anangu community.

Sydney Opera House Head of contemporary music and Vivid LIVE curator Ben Marshall said it was one of Vivid’s “most outstanding commissions ever”.

“This bold artwork will strike across the Sydney Opera House sails, animating and sharing fresh perspectives on ancestral practices and knowledge of country,” he said.

Yarrkalpa — Hunting Ground is on display in Berlin as part of the Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition.

Next year the Songlines exhibition will be on display in Paris.


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