The Batik Touch: Tjariya Stanley - Art Collector

Issue 65, July - September 2013

Tjariya Stanley has transitioned with ease and great accomplishment from working with textiles, to batik and most recently into paint.

Tjariya Stanley. Portrait by Alex Graig.

In its long history Ernabella Arts (established 1948), in South Australia has produced a variety of artforms, the predominantly craft-based nature of which have in some ways obscured the lens of individual achievement or cultural foundation. Ironically, the medium of acrylic on canvas has come relatively late to this art centre, as part of the broader post-twentieth century Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankatjatjarra Lands painting movement within the vast Central and Western Desert region. Senior Ernabella artists who had formerly mastered mediums like batik, ceramics and printmaking took to painting’s immediacy with new expressive gusto. From this newfound medium and appreciation for Ernabella artists have emerged painters such as Harry Tjutjuna (now represented by Ninuku Arts, Kalka), Niningka Lewis, Dickie Minyintiri (winner of the 2011 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards), Nura Rupert, Tjunkaya Tapaya, and the senior Pitjantjatjarra artist Tjariya Stanley, formerly known as Tjariya Nungalka Stanley.

Tjariya was born in 1939 in Wingellina, a small Aboriginal community otherwise known as Irrunytju in far-north South Australia, in Pitjantjatjara country adjoining the Gibson and Great Victoria Desert regions. She moved to Ernabella with her family as a young girl. Tjariya’s early work through Ernabella Arts – woven woollen floor-rugs, knitted jumpers and painted moccasins – was made within the context of the centre’s former missionary craft-room/cottage-industry production. In the early 1970s, Tjariya was taught batik printing by fellow Ernabella artist Nyukana (Daisy) Baker who had then returned from Indonesia where she’d travelled with Jillian Davey and Angkaliya Purampi to study the technique. Tjariya eventually excelled as one of the community’s foremost batik artists, her work appearing in the National Gallery of Victoria’s groundbreaking batik exhibitions Raiki wara: long cloth from Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait (1998), and Across the Desert: Aboriginal Batik from Central Australia (2008).

In 2009, Tjariya showed one of her earlier batiks in The Women’s Show, at Vivien Anderson Gallery in Melbourne, an exhibition highlighting contemporary art by Indigenous Australian women. Tjariya’s batik, Reiki Wara (batik silk long cloth), was the lone example in this exhibition that mostly comprised paintings (including those by fellow APY Lands artists Wingu Tingima and Nyankulya Watson). The rich, harmonic colours and profuse, detailed patterning of Reiki Wara is typical of Tjariya’s batiks – and at over two metres tall, it certainly held its own in this tribute show.

By 2010, Tjariya had begun to move more earnestly into painting, partly enabled by the arrival of new arts advisors, Ruth McMillan and Julian Green, at Ernabella Arts in late 2009 and their subsequent encouragement of the medium. To some degree, the market’s valorisation of painting above batik-printing is mirrored by an apparent increase in cultural significance; i.e., the subjects which Tjariya and other Ernabella artists paint tend to reflect deeper and more complex cultural and spiritual concerns than did their earlier work in other mediums.

In Tjariya’s painting Minyma Kutjara Wingellina which forms part of her inaugural solo exhibition during July at Alcaston Gallery in Melbourne, one may discern similarities with the work of fellow APY Lands artists from Wingellina, Tjariya’s birthplace. Tjariya’s exquisite colouring here – tonal greens, milky-grey lavenders – recalls the sophisticated, subtle layering of the batik artist as well as the palette of Wingellina-based artist Wingu Tingima. The overall sensibility of Tjariya’s composition evokes the work of Wingellina artist Maringka Baker whose palette, by contrast, can be far more electric and graphically charged.

Minyma Kutjara Wingellina is also the title of this milestone solo exhibition, which has come about through Alcaston’s involvement with Tjariya over a number of Ernabella group exhibitions. The title conveys the central Tjukurrpa (Law) underpinning these paintings, in the story of two ancestral women who perform a ceremony at Wingellina, and then travel to a site called Kantarangkutjara, on the way to Docker River. Tjariya explains: “The story of their travels after Docker River belongs to the Docker River people and others in distant country. My part of the story is short.”

“Short” it may be – Tjariya’s revelation of this Tjukurrpa’s larger narrative and related country – but her resulting paintings are certainly long in aesthetic and cultural depth. In a formidable practice overall which has ranged deftly over decades and mediums, Tjariya’s inaugural solo exhibition registers a remarkable cultural seniority and exciting expressive scope.

Maurice O’Riordan

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