Phyllis Thomas’ connection to country is chronicled in this exhibition with eight major works by the senior Gija artist from Warmun, located in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. On loan from the the Jirrawun Collection – an Indigenous owned private art studio that was notable as the base for a range of acclaimed senior Kimberley artists such as Paddy Bedford, Freddie Timms and Queenie McKenzie – these paintings are being offered for the first time since their creation at Jirrawun Arts in Wyndham, Western Australia; where Thomas’ painting practice began.
Thomas’ images depict dreaming places and bush tucker from the Crocodile Hole area as well as the country around the middle reaches of the Ord and Turner rivers where she was born. She focuses on the gemarre (body paint designs), painting in broad strokes; the fluidity of the line work is countered by the texture and rawness of the ochre pigment. Their curves represent scarification made on the body during ceremony – incisions made on a participant’s arm, leg, chest or stomach; kneaded with ash to encourage scar tissue to grow and accentuate the mark. This rite forms part of an individual’s identity, the scars protect a person as they let ancestors know who the person is and what they bring with them. Thomas has her own gemarre that was given to her by her elders when she was a young woman.
‘This is them scars that the old people used to cut across their bodies,’ says the artist. ‘Their leg, arm and stomach. This keep ’em safe when going across rivers, so that the Rainbow Serpent doesn’t get you.’
1 to 30 September, 2018