If you've ever been lucky enough to visit Martumili Artists in Newman, or catch us at an exhibition opening or market event around the traps, you're sure to have met young and emerging artists Judith Anya Samson and Corban Clause Williams. Both Anya (as often called by her second, 'bush' name, Judith), and Corban (known affectionately as Bamba), exude an incredibly magnetic sense of warmth and joy, matched by their equally radiant smiles. Not surprisingly given their similarities in character, Anya and Corban are also good friends. More surprising, however, are the similarities in the friends' art practice. While stylistically distinctive, their paintings demonstrate a comparable level of sophistication, talent, and ambition that firmly places the pair as exciting new voices in the contemporary tradition of Western Desert art.
Both Anya and Corban began painting with Martumili Artist as young teens, under the tuition of well-known artist relatives already painting with the group. More recently, the pair have been gathering momentum in terms of their critical success, each now seemingly at the tipping point of national recognition as two of the most eminent emerging figures in the contemporary Aboriginal art world. Since 2010, Anya and Corban have collectively participated in close to 100 group exhibitions in Australia, the US and Europe, and won four significant art awards. In 2019 Corban held his first, sell-out solo exhibition at Port Hedland's Courthouse Gallery, followed by Anya in 2020 at Yaama Ganu Gallery in NSW. Their work has also been acquired by the Art Gallery of Queensland (GOMA) and the National Museum of Australia.
September 17th of this year marked a further exciting development for the duo; the opening of Anya and Corban's first joint exhibition at Aboriginal Contemporary in Sydney- a show that sold out in .... days. The exhibition, fittingly titled 'Marlpa' (companionship, or company), is a stunning celebration not only of the deep friendship between the two artists, but also the practice of collaboration that lies at the core of the Martu artmaking practice. Martumili Artists are most known for their large collaborative works- but collaboration also takes place at a more fundamental level within the group. Even when working on their own canvases, artists still paint alongside each other, as immersed in the practice of painting as they are in conversation and song.
For younger artists, learning to paint from their elders, and at the same time learning about specific locations, family histories, traditional ways of life, bush tucker and Jukurrpa (Dreaming), is yet another important collaborative practice that takes place as a matter of course within the group, and one that ensures the endurance of the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) legacy. Corban's work, most often depicting his grandfather’s Country, Kaalpa (Kalypa, Canning Stock Route Well 23), is characterised by a soft fluidity in form and colour, overlayed by delicate and intricate patterning; qualities undoubtedly inspired by senior Martumili Artist Jakayu Biljabu, and Corban's nanna and creative mentor. As Corban explains, "I painted a lot with my nanna Jakayu, and little bit I got her style of painting into my painting." Similarly, in Anya's work the influence of her grandmother and pioneering Martumili Artist, Dadda Samson, is clearly visible. Anya strikingly combines vibrant, unrestrained palettes with her loose, bold, style, and incorporation of geometric walka (iconographic forms that describe the people, animals and their tracks, geographic formations and the location of water) to represent her and Dadda's Country surrounding Puntawarri, Jigalong and the Rabbit Proof Fence. She explains "I started to do painting here at Martumili when I was a young girl. I been help my nanna painting... My nanna was teach me to paint [but] I do my own style now- me, Anya."
Through all of the works presented in MARLPA an exciting pattern emerges, indicative of a process taking place in the group at large: the new generation of Martumili Artists, informed by Country, empowered by Culture and inspired by their predecessors, are moving desert art forward in new, exciting and experimental directions.
Image credit: Martumili Artists
In Corban’s words, “When I paint with Anya, we always laugh, we tell jokes, we talk about our paintings. I learn about her Country from her paintings and she learns about my Country, Kaalpa, from my paintings”. Anya echoes his sentiment: “I always want to paint more when I’m painting with Corban. I learn more and I get to talk about Rabbit Proof Fence and Puntawarri”.