Artist Spotlight featuring Walangari Karntawarra

Posted by Aboriginal Art Directory | 11.08.08

1. Briefly describe yourself. When and how did you first become interested in art? How long have you been a practising artist?Artist Portrait

I am an Arrernte man from Alice Springs and lived a traditional lifestyle until I was made a Ward of the State when I was 7 years old. I was sent to Adelaide for my secondary education; gained a BA from Deacon University and a B Ed from Charles Darwin University. I now live and work in Sydney.

I was always interested in art and constantly drew pictures as a child. Many of my family members are distinguished and internationally respected artists. I have made a living from my art for the past 16 years but I continue to teach and perform as a dancer and musician.

2. What is important to you in your art? What are you aspiring for with the art that you create?

My art is my way of communicating with the universe, our creator and the spirit world through abstract processes and fractal geometry.

3. What do you find to be the most exciting and challenging parts about being an artist?

I consider myself an educator as well as an artist. I teach people about my culture and spirituality through my art and performance. The most challenging aspects of this are breaking down the negative and erroneous stereotypes that exist about my people and explaining the complex traditional values and concepts that my art represents.

The most exciting part is witnessing the awakening of the non-Aboriginal community to the beauty and wisdom of our culture. I also enjoy the chance to travel and meet people of different cultures and to help create awareness of the beauty and fragility of our natural environment.

4. What are the growth or evolutionary opportunities for Aboriginal art in the society you live in?

The Central and Western Desert Movement is a contemporary art movement and as such continues to evolve. Although it depicts ancient concepts and symbolism, our Dreaming Stories are presented to the world in a thoroughly modern and visually captivating medium. The international attention, popularity and the commercial success of the movement has created a broader understanding and respect for our culture.

Aboriginal art encompasses a wealth of dance, performance and music, not just visual art. These art forms are all part of our traditional culture and remain important ways of educating people about our beliefs.

However, there still remains many obstacles to Aboriginal artists gaining a fairer distribution of the profits generated by this enormous industry. While this industry has created economic opportunities for numerous communities, many artist are still exploited and they and their families remain impoverished.

Education is the key to enabling our people to gain greater economic control of their cultural assets.

5. In your opinion, what role does a contemporary Aboriginal artist have in the society you live in?
Artist Portrait

Non-Aboriginal contemporary artists just have to paint but it appears incumbent upon Aboriginal artists to educate people about the beauty and wisdom of our culture.

Many brave, contemporary Aboriginal artists, have taken a political stance and portrayed the injustices, racism and brutality still inflicted on our people.

As an educator, I am always conscious of being a role model and spokesperson for my people. As an artist, I would argue that it is an unfair responsibility and that non-Aboriginal artists do not have such scrutiny and just have to produce "art for art's sake".

6. Who have been your greatest heroes in helping you take this creative path? How did they influence you?

My greatest heroes have been my wife, family and friends who have supported me throughout my career. The major influence in my life has been my wife and my mother. My mother gave me the cultural integrity and my wife is my muse.

7. Which artists do you find inspirational?

There are only two artist that have truly inspired me and the are my Great-grandfather Albert Namatjira (close extended family) and my grandfather Kwementye Possum (close extended family).

8. Describe the space that you work in?

My studio is a room in my Sydney apartment. It's not very big but I manage and dream of the day when I can really let loose, fling paint from floor to ceiling in a studio as big as my imagination.

9. When do you feel most creative?

Mostly late at night but often when I am walking around just observing.

10. What do you want people to take away with them when they see your art?

One of my paintings after they have paid for it.

11. Tell us about the last artwork you created and what was the story behind it?

I paint constantly and after spending months working on them can often finish two or three paintings on the same day. I'm currently evolving a number of different styles, bolder and bigger than the intricately executed signature paintings that I'm well known for. They're still chaotic and colourful depictions of the Jukurrpa that I have permission to paint. I see my art as a means of cross-cultural communication.

12. Is there anything else you would like to share?

I believe in working hard, having fun and taking good care of your family and the land. Our spirituality is our energy and it will make us strong enough so that we can help others.

( *All of the content in this interview is directly quoted from the artist - Aboriginal Art Directory)

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Last modified: August 26, 2008 2:34 PM