Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori Dulka Warngiid: Land of All

Colour is the first thing that grabs your attention when you see Sally Gabori’s paintings, bright and bold it bounds unrestrained across the canvas. It was this compelling and idiosyncratic painting style, which established the late Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori as a matriarch of Indigenous art in Queensland. And as a testament to this critical practice, the senior Kaiadilt woman artist is being celebrated by a retrospective, ‘Dulka Warngiid – Land Of All’, at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art.

Curated by Bruce McLean, the retrospective will cover Gabori’s painting practice in her twilight years, when she first picked up a paintbrush in 2005. Whilst this epic retrospective only covers a decade, do not let time shape your opinion. The success of Gabori’s practice, both nationally and internationally, is a product of her lifelong work as an activist for her culture and community.

Multilayered and embedded with stories of people and place, the retrospective brings the range of Gabori’s practice together as a visual narrative of the artist’s life. ‘Dulka Warngiid – Land Of All’ ranges from her early more abstract paintings, to her large collaborative works with other Kaiadilt women, and later her almost monochromatic paintings and works on paper.

Embracing the full potential of colour Sally Gabori’s paintings speak to the dialogue of abstraction, but on a more personal note are an expression of identity and place. Explaining Gabori’s smooth transition to acrylic paints, curator Bruce McLean stated, “It gave her access to that spectrum of colour that reflects those tropical, vibrant colours that surround the island. She was one of those vibrant tropical women, who wore vibrant colours and embraced everything about the qualities of colour, life and light in the tropics.”

The prolific nature of Gabori’s painting practice speaks to her need to articulate the connections to her home, Bentinck Island in Queensland’s Gulf of Carpentaria. As a young girl, the artist’s community were relocated to Mornington Island due to rising environmental extremes. As a result painting became an act of storytelling, of her personal and her community’s collective cultural identity.

‘Place’ is a central theme in the exhibition, with six places making the backbone of her focus. “Each of those paintings is very different in composition and what it tells or reveals about that place”, states McLean. “Those six places related to the people and the places that she knew best. Some of the stories of her husband killing her brother and taking her as a wife, and people that passed away, markers of where they are buried and those stories are embedded within the paintings.”
In choosing the landscape as her muse, Gabori engaged in a visual conversation about the people in her life, the importance of place.

Whether you are an informed observer, or a new visitor to Gabori’s works, be embraced by the didactic paintings as they play with the potential of colour and the broad spectrum of emotions it can exude. Densely, layered with local knowledge, ‘Dulka Warngiid – Land Of All’ presents a visual feast from the artist who brought her culture to the world stage.

Queensland Art Gallery
Gallery of Modern Art
21 May to 28 August, 2016