We Don't Need a Map is an explosion of cultural production. It is like stepping into another world. Through paint, drawing, moving image, installation and photography, audiences are teleported to and enveloped by the dusty red, demanding and mesmerising environment that is Martu country.
Scenes of red earth, spinifex, sandhills, open skies, salt lakes, clay pans and waterholes converge with cultural practices and traditions, including burning off bushland, caring for the land, hunting, cooking, crafting, playing and singing.
Most urban Australians have not made it out to (or in to) Martu country. It is an enormous tract of land comprising the East Pilbara that incorporates four language groups and six remote communities - Jigalong, Parnngurr, Kunawarritji, Punmu, Warralong and Nullagine.
The "outsiders" perspective is well expressed in media artist Lynette Wallworth's video installation Still Country.
Wallworth was invited to make this work in response to Martu country. She spent a week documenting a group of Martu women as they burnt the land, hunted goanna and bush turkey and cooked the spoils of the hunt, all the while singing. The resulting footage is at once dynamic, meditative and respectful, eschewing the ethnographic colonial gaze, in favour of a gentle, carefully paced perspective that communicates the thriving Martu knowledge of an abundant land, far from interpretations of Australia as terra or homo nullius.
In addition to indigenous and non-indigenous works displayed alongside one another, collaboration between these groups also features strongly. This is seen in an animation directed by Sohan Ariel Hayes, Cannibal Country, which brings to life the paintings of Martu elder Yunkurra Billy Atkins. Here we see Martu country as a place of risk and danger, stories as the stuff of nightmares.
Another such collaboration, The Phone Booth Project, by Martu artist Curtis Taylor and Melbourne's Lily Hibbard, centres on the public phone booth and the idiosyncratic significance it attains in Martu communities.
Painting occupies the majority of the exhibition spaces, picturing a diversity of visual languages, from the abstract to the figurative, from line and dot pattern of secret-sacred knowledge, to bright figuration detailing landscape and scenes of community life.
A story made familiar to audiences by Philip Noyce's award-winning film Rabbit Proof Fence, is pictured in paint by Noreena Kadibil. Kadibil's mother, Daisy Kadibil, was one of the children to escape from the Moore River Native Settlement in 1931 and return to Martu country by walking more than 1600km along the rabbit-proof fence.
Kadibil's paintings bring an emotional and political reality to the fore and remind viewers of a lived trauma for generations of Aboriginal people. An oscillation between such sombre and then lighter themes frames the overall experience of the show, as it does the land itself.
Navigating this exhibition, it quickly becomes clear that the Martu don't need a map because the map of their country is innate to their being, in their bones, kept alive through traditions, songs and stories, Martu lore.
Martu art is inextricably bound to country and Martu people form a part of what professor Marcia Langton in the last of her Boyer lectures describes as: "A new generation of Aboriginal people . . . turning dreams into reality" where "education, economic participation, self-esteem and success are part of this new Aboriginal world and there is no going back".
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