CURATOR & SENIOR LECTURER IN ART HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND
Describing Mavis Ngallametta as the “Rover Thomas of the West Cape,” curator Sally Butler clarifies this by adding: “She is someone who has been extremely innovative in creating an entirely new way of painting country for her particualr cultural identity and people, the Wik people”. Having curated Ngallametta’s work in the 2010 Before Time Today exhibition at the University of Queensland Art Museum, Butler was delighted when the well regarded weaver decided to develop canvas painting which she says “gave the exhibition an entirely new dimension”. The exhibition gained international recognition as well as being hugely successful after its Brisbane launch, at which Ngallametta sang a rendition of the Frank Sinatra classic My Way.
A truly genuine artist, Butler relays an anecdote: “I remember she said to me one time, ‘I see country through my feet because when I walk through country I feel all the different surfaces and that’s what I try to paint, that kind of feeling of country’.” A highly respected cultural figure, the artist is actively involved in keeping culture alive, particularly through her efforts with the Ghost Net Weavers where baskets are woven from fishing line debris retrieved from the ocean.
There is an element of mystery about the work of Ngallametta and a sense that no matter how many times you look upon her work, you will always find a new aspect, see a new element or uncover a new depth. Butler sums it up best when she says: “The work takes you on a journey and she’s a wonderful person to take that journey with.”
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 68, APR – JUN 2014