The Flash Minky Billabong Blanket.
Artist: Ngarralja Tommy May
Art Centre: Mangkaja Arts, Fitzroy Crossing
Title: The Billabong Blanket
Size: 132 x 200 cm
Internationally recognised artist Tommy Ngarralja May is a man Wangkajunga/Walmajarri desert man. He was born at Yarrnkurnja in the Great Sandy Desert in 1934 and walked out of the desert as a young adult. Ngarralja paints as he describes “easy stories” meaning stories that desert people are allowed to paint, not cultural secrets or taboos associated with mens business. There are strict cultural aesthetic rules; it is believed that you will invoke serious danger by painting areas that are not you ancestral rite. When he paints, he thinks about walking around, proud of his past and way of life, Ngarralja remembers the water holes, flood plains and stories that guided him through the land scape. He was recently featured in the New York Times.
In his later years, his aesthetic references his carving and print making past. Using mostly acrylic pens, his personal story is a complex mix of his lived experiences, the Dreamtime, his ties to place and, to the station movement in the Kimberley that took many desert men from their families into forced labor on the stations. Tommy’s complex visual language is as much a protest for listeners as it is undocumented history. His campaign for culture and identity is well known, passionate about improving the lives of his community; he regularly uses any opportunity to explain who he is.
Ngarralja is an important person for art and culture in Fitzroy Crossing and was a founding Director of Mangkaja arts. He has been on the board of Mangkaja since its incorporation over 20 years ago. He was former Chairman of Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC). Ngarralja was also an executive for twenty one years on the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA) Board of Directors.
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