Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Desert tragedy claims prominent Indigenous artist

It has been confirmed one of two men who died on a remote track in Western Australia was a prominent Pitjantjatjara artist, senior law man and healer...

Monday, January 15, 2007 - Desert tragedy claims Indigenous artist

The body of respected Aboriginal artist Kunmana Dawson was discovered on Friday near a broken down four-wheel drive, about 350 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie. The discovery was made after a three day air and land search. The body of his travelling companion was found 3.5 kilometres east of their Land Cruiser.

Dawson, 69, and Jarman Woods, 45, were found dead near a remote track about 320km east of Kalgoorlie last week after being reported missing on January 9.
Both men been living in the West Australian Wingellina community near the borders of SA/NT. According to news reports, the pair had been reported missing a station hand found what was believed to be their vehicle and Dawson's body on Dog Fence Road last Friday. Police said it appeared their car had mechanical problems as they were returning from Kal to Wingellina.

Daily air searches began last week when community members told police the pair had not arrived at the Tjuntjuntjarra community 650km north of Kalgoorlie as expected.

Mr Dawson was a Pitjantjatjara man, traditional healer and senior law man broadly recognised for his paintings and carvings of the central desert Ngaanyatjarra lands. He also had been a board member of Desart, an association promoting central desert Aboriginal artists.

In June last year, Mr Dawson travelled to Paris for the opening by French President Jacques Chirac of the Musee du Quai Branly, dedicated to Indigenous art from around the world.

Dawson's work hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Critics have paid tribute to the late artist and Aboriginal elder known as "Nyakul Dawson," saying his authority and wisdom was internationally respected. Desart chief executive John Oster said Dawson brought enormous personal integrity to everything he did.

"He had a personal magnetism that was full of insight and wisdom and humour. He always had a twinkle in his eye and you knew (that) conveyed meaning and understanding beyond the power of words," Mr Oster said.

Dawson's paintings, carvings and traditional shields depicted the 'tjukurpa', or dreaming, stories of his country, Mr Oster said. "These were objects imbued with enormous cultural value. You might be talking about a very traditional looking shield, but the shield was etched with story in often the most roughest and rudimentary but the most powerful way."

Hetty Perkins, the curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the NSW Art Gallery, said Dawson's wisdom and charisma shone through. "I was struck at that time by the ease and composure with which he conducted himself," Mr Perkins said. "He was a great ambassador and a very experienced lawman and ceremonial leader for his people and that was borne out in Paris in his engagement with the international arts and political community."

Nyakul Dawson grew up living nomadically in the desert with his parents. Dawson's work brought people from his Ngaanyatjarra area to national attention.

Some of Dawson's work depicts the places he went as a boy with his mother and father in the western desert region of central Australia. A traditional healer, Dawson is known among the Irrunytju people as a highly respected law man and traditional healer.

Working beside his grandfather, he trained as a ngangkari when he was still a boy. He learnt to use traditional tools and techniques, combined with spiritual knowledge and tjukurpa. He used mapanpa (sharp stone blades) to find splinters in the flesh and removed sickness by sucking out bad blood, touching, kneading and massaging the body," his bio reads.

He worked with prospectors and his memories of this time include the "terrible smell of the fallout from the nuclear testing at Maralinga" and being removed from his country to the mission at Warburton by Native Patrol Officers in the 1950s.

Nyakul Dawson, a senior Pitjantjatjara law man and Ngangkari (traditional healer), was born around 1930 at Aaran, on the wati ngintaka (goanna man) Dreaming track. He lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle for many years with his family, during which time he was taught about how to survive in the desert, learned about the country and the Dreamings associated with it.

He remembered when he first saw whitefellas, riding camels across the desert, and remembered the terrible smell of the fallout from the Maralinga nuclear testing. Today, Nyakul lives with his wife Anmanari Brown in a wiltja (humpy) at Irrunytju.

Nyakul Dawson represented Irrunytju Arts at the official opening of the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris in June 2006, attending a reception for the commissioned artists at the Presidential Palace and various media events at the Australian Embassy.

Nyakul Dawson's art on the web

WARNING: the following links may contain images of deceased Aboriginal persons!


SMH Article
flexegate gallery

ABC News
SMH - Critics pay tribute to Aboriginal artist
The Australian
Police hope desert deaths probe prevents future tragedy - Abc news
DESART - Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft

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