50 of Australia's Most Collectable Artists: Sally Gabori - Art Collector

Issue 51, January - March 2010

This profile appeared in the "50 of Australia's Most Collectable Artists 2010" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2010"

She paints with a searing palette, the colours ruthlessly honest, clearly the hand of a masterful and practiced artist. But that is not, in fact, the case. Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori actually had her first solo exhibition in 2005 after just seven months of painting.

Born and raised on the remote Bentinck Island off the coast of Queensland circa 1924, she was moved to Mornington Island by Methodist missionaries in 1948. Almost from the moment she picked up a paintbrush Gabori was recognised as one of the leading lights of recent Indigenous painting. She has now held five solo shows and been included in group exhibitions in Singapore, Seoul, Auckland and Darwin. In 2007 alone she held two solo shows at Alcaston Gallery in Melbourne and exhibited in 2008 and 2009 at the Tim Melville Gallery in Auckland. She has also become something of a star in the awards system, becoming a finalist in the Western Australian Indigenous Art Award, the Togart Contemporary Art Award, the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, the Xstrata Coal Emerging Indigenous Artist Award and the ABN AMRO Emerging Artist Award. She was also included in the 2009 Korean International Art Fair.

“Her tribal name is Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda. Juwarnda means dolphin, which is her totemic sign, and Mirdidingkingathi means born at Mirdidingki, in her country on the south side of Bentinck Island,” says linguist Nicholas Rollo David Evans, who has worked in the region. “She lived a completely traditional life, with practically no contact with non-Kaiadilt people, fishing and gathering shellfish and vegetable foods, and maintaining the stonefish walls around the shores of Bentinck Island.

“This changed in the early 1940s, when missionaries transported the entire Kaiadilt population from their tribal lands to the mission on Mornington Island. She then lived on Mornington until the late 1980s, when the Kaiadilt began to re-establish themselves on their ancestral lands, building a number of outstations on Bentinck Island. Mother and grandmother to a large family, and the living repository of a wealth of tribal lore, she now lives on Mornington Island. Throughout her life she has been an accomplished producer of traditional handicrafts made from bush products such as pandanus fibres and hibiscus bark woven into string.”

Simon Turner from the Woolloongabba Art Gallery in Brisbane, which held Gabori’s first solo show in 2005, told the ABC that: “There are a myriad of different reasons I think Sally’s work’s appealing … the subject matter she’s painting about is probably the most interesting thing, because she’s painting a landscape that we haven’t seen before. And this is Queensland being told by one of our oldest story-tellers and it’s the Gulf, it’s the colours of the tropics so to speak, but it’s also the life of the tropics.”

Ashley Crawford

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