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Kurrujupnyi (Ochre Colours)

The artists of Melville Island on the Tiwis create their works using a simple palette of red, yellow, black and white. Even with this limited selection, they’ve been able to create a broad mix of exciting works.

By Tierney Seccull

This month, Munupi Art and Crafts Association and Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association join forces to present Kurrujupunyi (Ochre Colours), a beautiful exhibition that celebrates Tiwi art, and the colours and processes used to create them.

Ochre is the medium of choice on the Tiwis, the colour transformed by applying heat. Yellow ochre is burned to create red ochre, and both can be mixed with white and black clay to create a vibrant variety of hues. Munupi Arts Manager Guy Allain says the artists can get quite creative with the colours.

“They’ve been experimenting forever with the ochre … They put a little bit of red into the white and get pink, they put a bit of black into the yellow to get greens, or black into white to get greys.”

The result is a striking variety of contemporary and traditional works by established and emerging artists.

This special showcase of Tiwi art and culture is an annual highlight on a national scale, included as part of the Darwin Festival program. The opening event is a huge celebration as Tiwi artists perform a ceremonial yoi – a traditional dance. Allain says it’s something the artists look forward to each year.

“They're always excited by the Tiwi show. For the Munupi artists, it’s the highlight of the year. We’ve been doing it for 10 years, so that’s very exciting – you could call this year our 10-year celebration!”

Jilamara Arts Manager Will Heathcote agrees it's important the artists make the annual trip across the sea.

“What we really noticed, when events like this weren’t happening during COVID, is that they are a great space for people coming together from remote communities,” he says.

“Obviously, Jilamara and Munupi are on Melville Island, but to be part of a broader Darwin program around the Darwin Festival ... It creates this kind of public forum where artists from the community can come together to share their culture, but also the contemporary artworks that they’re making.

“One of the greatest celebrations of these kinds of events is that the artworks are a testament to ancient living culture, and culture that’s still alive. But the artworks are contemporary artworks in their own right, as well.”

Drawing from rich traditions, artists continue to use their powja in their arts practice – a traditional Tiwi painting comb used to press ochres onto the surfaces of canvas, barks and sculptures. The artists themselves even become canvases, as jilamara in Tiwi means the action of painting, but also body paint design. Heathcote says Tiwi creation is all connected.

“Pedro Wonaeamirri, one of our artists, always says 'the song connects to the dance, connects to the jilamara, connects to the art that we make'. You can see the performative foundations of Tiwi work – visitors to Darwin will see all the artists painted up in ochre, performing ceremonial yoi, with all of that body ornamentation which develops into the art that they make as well.”

Don't miss this incredible celebration and showcase of Tiwi art and culture. It’s very, very special.

Kurrujupnyi (Ochre Colours)

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