Ngunytju Yuntalpa - Mother Daughter

The inimitable Tjawina Porter and her daughter Elsa Fiona Young are two pillars of Tjarlirli Art. Both daily presences in the art centre, they paint steadily from open until close, planted firmly on paint-splattered mats, legs stretched out alongside large canvases which sit on the floor. Fiona has inherited her mother’s quiet dedication to painting, and Tjawina, though now around 90 years old, has no trouble keeping pace with her younger daughter. Their constant companions are their litany of papas (dogs) – Tjutju, Zhuzhu, Tjutjamau and Kungkamaru – each of whom are flecked with paint and whose paws the still-wet canvases must be defended from.

The paintings for Ngunytju Yuntalpa – Mother Daughter were completed in the latter half of 2021, and while the canvases themselves are not collaborations, the women’s painting process is. They sit side by side, day by day, telling stories, sharing food, cuddling dogs, and giggling with each other and their extended family who sometimes join them. Mother and daughter, both now widowed, are constant companions, and the closeness, playfulness and joy of their relationship is a delight to behold.

The works explore the country and Tjukurrpa (Dreaming stories) around the ladies’ home community of Tjukurla in the Ngaanyatjarra lands of remote Western Australia. Tjawina was born in the bush, living her youth without knowledge of or contact with European colonisers. During this time, she developed a deep and essential awareness of both the practicalities of desert survival, and the spiritual dimensions of country. She holds Fiona Young and Tjawina Porter 2021 a huge body of knowledge about many sacred sites around Tjukurla, which she translates onto her vast canvases. Her works in this exhibition in particular focus on the story of Porcupine (echidna) Dreaming at the Tjarlirli rockhole. With a keen knack for storytelling and a wicked sense of humour, Tjawina recounts the stories of her youth in the bush and the Tjukurrpa of these sites as she paints.

Fiona was born in 1965 near the important site of Pungkurrpidi waterhole on the NT-WA border. Growing up in an era which saw missionaries, government officials and farmers come to the Lands, she still inherited a strong sense of culture and tradition from her mother and other family. Fiona’s works depict the movement of ancestral women across the desert landscape; this body of works specifically show the minyma (women) travelling across the tali (sandhills) outside of Tjukurla. The undulating lines of her canvases, dotted with punu (a flat-ended stick), evoke the shifting patterns of the desert sands from above.

While Tjarlirli Art is a relatively young art centre – having been formally incorporated in 2006 – the gestation of the art practice of its members has a much longer and deeper history. The work of Tjawina Porter and Fiona Young is reflective of this longstanding meditation on country and culture made manifest through contemporary painting practice. Ngunytju Yuntalpa – Mother Daughter is testament to Tjawina and Fiona’s relationship, as well as a exploration of each artist’s unique perspective of their ngura (home country), woven together through shared history and knowledge of Tjukurrpa.

The introduction to the exhibition was written by Riley McPherson from Tjarlirli Art, who works with these two wonderful artists most days.

View the catalogue HERE