Paris, France — Bold brush strokes, vivid colors, luminous, it is one of the capital’s most original and astonishing exhibitions. These are the artist’s interpretations of the Kaiadilt, her people, the surrounding sea, her island landscapes, her island that she and her people were forced to leave. The fascinating, highly original works of Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori are being showcased at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (The Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art). Through this show and the subsequent book and website that have emanated from it, the Foundation has brought more than art works to Paris, they have brought a new world, a new culture to discover. The exhilarating exhibition is also a tribute to the Kaiadilt people an Aboriginal Australian people. The show, which was organized in close collaboration with the artist’s family and the Kaiadilt community brings together some thirty monumental paintings as well as three collaborative paintings done with other Kaiadilt artists including her daughters, set in the Foundation’s luminous exhibition spaces surrounded by a garden.
For Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, who began painting when she was already over 80-years-old and living in a nursing home, was a Kaiadilt woman born on the remote island of Bentinck, circa 1924. She is regarded as one of the greatest contemporary Australian artists of the past two decades. Bentinck Island is a remote island in the Gulf of Carpentaria off the coast of far-north Queensland. Her name, Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda, is based on the Kaiadilt tradition in which everyone is named for their place of birth and their totem. Her name indicates that she was born at Mirdidingki, a small creek located on the south of the island and that her totem animal was the juwarnda, the dolphin.
And in her paintings, people and places, of her native island, are inseparable. Dibirdibi refers to one of the founding stories of the Kaiadilt cosmology linked to the creation of Bentinck island. Nyinyilki is a sublime interpretation in purple, pink and black hues of a freshwater lagoon strewn with water lilies on the south-east coast of the island. These are among the works on show.
Her family had led a traditional lifestyle on the largely isolated island which had a population of 125 in 1944. Her people, the Kaiadilt were the last Aboriginal people of coastal Australia to establish lasting ties with the Europeans. Like most of the women on the island she was in charge of fishing and weaving natural fibers into baskets. Painting would come into the picture when her people were exiled to Mornington Island where Presbyterian missionaries had settled in the 1940s trying to convince the Kaidilt to join their mission. This proved to be highly unsuccessful until 1948 when a tidal wave contaminated the islanders fresh water supplies. The remaining 63 Kaiadilt residents — Sally and her family among them —were evacuated to the Presbyterian missionary. Children were separated from their parents and they were forbidden from speaking their mother tongue. It was in 2005 that she began painting for the first time at the Gununa art studio on Mornington island.
Sally Gabori’s art has brought her people to Paris and beyond. When she began painting at over the age of 80, it was as if eight decades of bottled up creativity emerged onto the canvases, the over 2,000 canvases that she painted in only 11 years. The audacious colors, the textures, the layerings, the shapes celebrate different places on her native island. Sally Gabori died in 2015. Through her paintings she left behind her island, her people and her culture for eternity. If your don’t make it to the show the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain has created a special and immersive website dedicated to the life and work of the artist and available to all. It is a work in progress that will be regularly added to with new contributions. https://www.sallygabori-fondationcartier.com/
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
Exhibition until November 6th
261 Boulevard Raspail
75014 Paris, France
Categories: Gourmet Fair