The family of renowned Kimberley artist Mabel King have welcomed the release of 55 works, which have been held by the Public Trustee since she died intestate in 2006.
Under State legislation, currently under review by WA Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier, the estates of indigenous people who die intestate are automatically managed by the Public Trustee, rather than their families.
King died without a will, which meant her family members have had to wait six years for the Public Trustee to release the art works for sale.
An exhibition called Mabel King – Paintings From The Estate opened at Fremantle’s Japingka Gallery last Friday and will be open until June 6.
Ian Plunkett of Japingka Gallery said because King had been an important Ngarinyin law woman, the exhibition was of national significance.
“The gallery is honoured to host this exhibition,” he said. “It is likely to be the last time that such a wide body of King’s works will be seen together and the show looks absolutely stunning, resembling a cave gallery in the Kimberley.”
King was born in 1938, and was one of the Ngarinyin elders who lived through a time when traditional people of the West Kimberley moved to settle at Mowanjum near Derby.
Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre manager Jenny Wright said King had passed away in 2006, leaving “two dresses, a tin cup and 55 paintings.”
Ms Wright, described King as “a talented and vibrant person,” who was still greatly missed by the Mowanjum community.
She said King’s good friend and fellow law custodian Pansy Nulgit had flown down to Perth to represent her.
Arts Law Centre senior solicitor Delwyn Everard, who negotiated the release of the estate with the Public Trustee, said reform of laws about indigenous intestacy – someone who has died without a will – presented a “fabulous opportunity to recognise specific indigenous family relationships.”
“They need to take into consideration the broader, extended sense of the family,” she said.
“The laws needs to recognise indigenous adoption, where a child may be taken into the family at a young age without going through the formal adoption process.”