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WARU (Fire)

Submitted by author on Fri, 08/05/2022 - 20:16

Showing now at the Newman Martumili Artists’ gallery is WARU (fire), the first incarnation in a series of Martu-led workshops, camps and exhibitions to be delivered in collaboration by Martumili and KJ (Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa) over a five year period. Equally important in the project’s overarching objectives are the fostering of opportunities for intergenerational learning, and the showcasing of ways in which both ranger and artistic work is embedded in maintaining Warrarnku Ninti (knowledge of Country).

Martu have harnessed the power of waru in various forms as an integral cultural and functional practice for thousands of years, through traditional and contemporary desert life. Amongst other things, it represents a significant tool for hunting, signalling and land management. Knowledge of waru has been passed down through generations, and is still used for all these things today.

It is of great significance to the creative output of Martumili Artists that some of the last of the remaining pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) generation comprise a high portion of the core Elders that paint with the group. Through these Elders, critical traditional cultural and social knowledge is communicated within their artwork. As younger Martu artists typically begin painting with their parents, grandparents and extended family, they are able to learn not only about painting techniques, but also the vital cultural knowledge that is embodied in the art of their forebears.

Our knowledge is ancient and has been passed on by our grandparents. Young people need to keep looking after it. Our home is where our ancestors walked around. They knew how to care for it. Now we are teaching the younger generation."

- Nyanjilpayi (Ngarnjapayi) Nancy Chapman, as translated by Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa

Traditional fire making techniques, applications and interconnected knowledge formed the crux of the first of the project’s camps, the Waru on Country camp of 2021. At the same time, a series of art making workshops were facilitated to enable a dynamic visual exploration of this knowledge. The resultant exhibition showcases Martumili Artists’ youngest and emerging members alongside our most eminent senior artists, in a collection comprising a project film and more than fifty new paintings and photographic works that were produced during the camp.

The WARU (fire) exhibition provides a rich exploration of the importance of waru for Martu, with works in the collection thematically grouped in relation to the many and nuanced traditional uses of fire. Representations on display include the plant and animal life cycles corresponding to fire burning; the role of fire in the provision of warmth and comfort in both a social and physical sense; waru as employed in hunting and tracking, land management, and communication; and of course as an integral form of traditional cultural knowledge that continues to be transferred through to younger Martu generations. One of the key artworks in the show, itself titled Waru (fire), is a stunning collaborative work that embodies this very process. The work was painted by three generations of the Taylor family, and serves as a profound testament of the ongoing work of Martu in caring for ngurra (Country).