Mavis Ngallametta Art Exhibition QAGOMA

July 6, 2020


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains references to deceased people. 

On the first week that our beautiful Queensland Art Gallery was open again I visited with a friend. It was so lovely to be two of the twenty people enjoying a day out in this amazing space. We had come to chat, lunch, shop and visit the latest exhibition showcasing the art of Australian Indigenous artist, Mavis Ngallametta. Mavis Ngallametta ( 1944 – 2019) made a profound contribution to our arts and culture here in Queensland. 

Mavis Ngallametta was an Indigenous Australian painter and weaver. She was an elder with the Putch clan and a cultural leader of the Wik and Kugu people of Aurukun, Cape York Peninsula. Mavis was one of the most well regarded senior community – based artists in Australia. She was born near Kendall River and lived a traditional life on Country until she was five.

This latest exhibition of her work called ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home’ is running at QAGOMA until February 7, 2021. The exhibition surveys a decade of the artist’s intricate and animated paintings, bringing together major works from her Pamp/ Swamp, Kendall River, Wutan, Ikalath, Yalgamunken intertidal estuary and powerful bushfire series for the first time. This is a powerful aesthetic experience and a great insight into life on Mavis Ngalametta’s country. 

It was very easy when visiting the exhibition to see the progression of this prolific artist’s skill. Her first paintings were in bright acrylic, which she was introduced to in a women’s art workshop at the Wik and Kugu Art Centre. Mavis only began painting at age 64. She began to paint in 2008 and only created her large scale works for which she was renowned in 2010. These later works used prepared pigments, laboriously gathered from a number of important sites. Mavis enjoyed painting those places that were important to her. 

I loved that the motifs of waterlilies and birds that featured in her early acrylics could still be seen in her later works. Her paintings tell stories from her life; memories of camping trips, fishing and collecting ochre and materials for her paintings. The exhibition was interspersed with examples of her colourful basket weaving and whimsical sculptures. Many paintings are vast with an almost bird’s eye view that pulses with energy and whimsy. 

Mavis Ngallametta was also a songwoman and one of her favourite songs was ‘ Show Me The Way To Go Home’. It is fitting that her first exhibition has been named after this song she loved so much.  This is the first major exhibition of Mavis Ngallametta’s work.

Sadly she passed away in 2019, mere months after the gallery confirmed her solo exhibition in 2020, but her sense of fun, whimsy and love of Country lives on through her work. If you don’t live here in Queensland you can enjoy a series of videos exploring the work of Mavis Ngallametta with Katina Davidson, Curator of Indigenous Art at QAGOMA which can be found on the QAGOMA website. There are more than 40 pieces of her work on display, many are vast in size. For a wonderful day out spend the day with the art of Mavis Ngallametta, I know you will come away feeling richer for the experience. 

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