I first came to know Yirdingali Nungarrayi (Lily) in early 1982. At the time she was known far and wide by her nickname ‘Council Woman’ because, after the Welfare Days ended in the late 1970s, she’d taken on a cleaning position at the Lajamanu Community Council.
Later, beginning in early 1982, Lily started work as one of a team of three Warlpiri women who, beginning at dawn, cleaned the school every morning before the kids arrived. The Warlpiri cleaning team, including Lily, were under the direction of a young white woman who had been appointed “head” cleaner by the then school principal.
The young white woman didn’t disguise her disdain for Warlpiri people and their cultural practices. One day, fed-up with such talk, Lily simply walked off the job, never to return. Quick to fly off the handle, Lily has never accepted shabby treatment, let alone from those considerably less experienced than her in life and work.
Lily’s “resignation” was damaging to the school because like everything else that she has done in life, she cleaned the ever-dusty school with great gusto, energy and commitment.
Today, as an increasingly frail nonagenarian, Lily Nungarrayi devotes her remaining days to the maintenance and intergenerational transmission of Warlpiri culture and language. She’s particularly dedicated to her visual art practice. Each morning she turns up early outside the Warnayaka Art Centre, waiting with her beloved maliki (dogs) until she can begin painting.
Nungarrayi’s educative zeal extends from teaching younger Warlpiri, to interacting with the succession of the sometimes recalcitrant Kardiya (non-Warlpiri people) who have lived or are now living at Lajamanu, whom she accurately perceives as being badly in need of education in Warlpiri life-ways and mores.
Lily’s quintessentially Warlpiri selfhood is evident in her visual artworks. In a field of accomplished Warlpiri artists, Yirdingali is a true original. Lily and her artworks are ultimately indivisible. Bold. Bright. Raw. Uncompromising. And charismatic.
She completes her artworks quickly, impatiently, although in this rapid execution Lily’s mark making is never slapdash. She is an action painter who works at an instinctual level, placing increasingly gestural, minimalist, assured strokes on her canvases. The Jukurrpa inhabits each one; the making of each artwork constitutes a grand gesture on her part.
These Jukurrpa include the Wardilyka Jukurrpa (“Bush Turkey Dreaming”), Ngapa Jukurrpa (“Water Dreaming”), Karnta-kurlangu Jukurrpa (“Women’s Dreaming’”) and more. This continuing hunger to evoke, to paint her Jukurrpa, repetitively and on a daily basis, even into advanced old age, comes from Lily’s passion to retain the best of the past in order to influence the present somewhat difficult circumstances of settlement life.
Each artwork that Lily creates manifests itself as a pulse of energy that will never be grasped by conventional aesthetics or mere intellectual control.
Christine Nicholls, Senior Lecturer, Flinders University
Christine Nicholls is the author of ‘Yilpinji, Love Art & Ceremony’ which features Lily Hargrave’s print ‘Liwirrinki’
Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, Australia
Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, The Netherlands
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Musée du quai Branly, Paris France
1987 Lajamanu Community Exhibition, Warlpiri Art from the North Tanami (First community commercial exhibition)
1987 Australian Made, Hogarth Galleries,Sydney, NSW
1989 Lajamanu Painters, Dreamtime Gallery, Perth, WA
1990 Lajamanu Dreamings, Technical and Further Education College, Darwin, NT
1990 Lajamanu Paintings, Shades of Ochre Gallery, Darwin, NT
1990 Paint Up Big: Warlpiri Women’s Art of Lajamanu, National Gallery of Victoria
1991 Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra
1991 Lajamanu Dreamings 2, Technical and Further Education College, Darwin, NT
1991 Ngurra Mala, les lieux du Reve, Ecole des beaux-arts, Grenoble, France
1991 Aboriginal Art, Australian Embassy, Washington,USA
1991 Yapa, Peintres Aborigenes de Balgo et Lajamanu, Baudoin Lebon Gallery,Paris
1992 Maintaining the Dreaming, University of Wollongong Long Gallery coordinated by Coo-ee Aboriginal Art
1993 The Tenth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
1994 Yapakurlangu Wirrkardu, Batchelor College, Tennant Creek, NT
1994 Australian Aboriginal Art, Dettinger Mayer Gallery, Lyon and Toulouse, France
2000 Lajamanu Warlpiri Artists, Yuwayi Gallery, World Square , Sydney (Olympic Games exhibition) organised by Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney
2001 Warlpiri Artists from Lajamanu, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle,
2001 Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide,
2001 Allison Kelly Gallery, Melbourne
2002 New Works from Lajamanu, Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney
Crumlin, R., (ed.), 1991, Aborigina Art and Spirituality, Collins Dove, North Blackburn, Victoria. (C)
Glowczewski, B., 1991, Yapa, Peintres Aborigenes de Balgo et Lajamanu, Lebon Gallery, Paris
Nicholls, CJ, 2003, Love Art & Ceremony, Craftsman House, Melbourne Victoria