DOROTHY NAPANGARDI by Paris Norton
Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).
While I’m doing my paintings I always have my family in mind, I have my country in mind.(1)
As I trace the lines of Aunty Dorothy Napangardi’s work Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa (Belonging to women) 2000, I see Mina Mina. I smell wet earth as I follow her through the claypans, sand brushing against my face as it rides the wind from the west. Crystallised salt crunches under my feet as she explains the Jukurrpa, an inseparable connection between people and Country. Jukurrpa is a holistic set of rules, an integrated way of being and living with the environment, one that is understood today as it was in the beginning.
I tell her of my guni‑ma (mother earth), drawing Gomeroi Country in the sand. She nods and looks for her to the south‑east.
Aunty Dorothy shows me the wanakiji (bush tomato), marnikiji (conkerberry), warrarna (Great Desert skink) and mukaki (bush plum) growing and weaving themselves throughout the spinifex. I cannot see their colour but I can taste them. She tells me about their lifecycle as it is her own; a dance between seasons, as they grow, flower and fruit. She tells me there is more that grows stretching her arms out across her Country with a smile.
I am both within and above the landscape as I stare into the patterns. This detail tells me that she was born here and that she has returned here in person, memory and spirit. She guides my eye across the lines and whispers ‘this is the story of many women, most importantly a group of old Warlpiri women of the Napangardi and Napanangka skin groups who gathered at Mina Mina. They danced this world into being’. She understood this Dreaming, her father’s Dreaming, when she was young and that she would continue to sing, dance and paint, making her Jukurrpa.
I sit in deep listening, learning of the old women who danced, sang and gathered, creating and changing Country as they moved. Aunty Dorothy shows me digging sticks and the marks left by them on Country. She points behind her and tells me that the women and the sticks now grow and remain within the trees.
I am asked to watch with focus as the dots and patterns come alive, animating off the canvas. Like waves the landscape breathes in and out. Mina Mina is sustained and strengthened by its ongoing connection to Warlpiri women.
To understand Aunty Dorothy you must understand Country, you must understand Jukurrpa.
Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa is a community, a Dreaming and an embodiment of the Warlpiri women’s spirit.
Aunty Dorothy’s work reminds us that strength is found in our connections and commitment to Country and community. We must continue to dance, sing and to, above all else, dream.
(1) Dorothy Napangardi quoted in Dancing up country: The art of Dorothy Napangardi, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2002, p 11.
Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Norton, Paris. "Dorothy Napangardi" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 268–269.
PARIS NORTON is is a Gomeroi woman from north‑western New South Wales, multi‑disciplinary artist and Curator, Art and Object, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra.