Pukamani Ceremony circa 1950’s (photograph copyright the Estate of Baldwin Spencer)
Milikapiti community, first known as Snake Bay, was established in 1941 as a permanent aboriginal settlement by the Native Affairs Branch of the Northern Territory Administration. Early visitors to the area of note included the photographer Baldwin Spencer, who documented continuing aspects of traditional life, the Anthropologist Charles Mountford and Australian artist Russell Drysdale. During visits in 1954, Mountford collected a large number of Tiwi paintings on bark which are now held in the Museum of South Australia. These works, commissioned by Mountford, are probably the first instance of Tiwi artists making art for a western audience. The resulting collection contains important works by key ‘Old Tiwi’ artists such as Deaf Tommy Mungatopi and together can be seen as a precursor to the current artistic practice at Jilamara.
JilamaraJilamara Arts & Crafts Association was established in 1989, at first as an adult education centre focused on fabric printing and under the guidance of textile artist, James Bennett. As well as quickly gaining a reputation for fabric, the centre soon became widely recognised for distinctive paintings and carved works. Key figures in this shift were the ‘two old ladies’ of Jilamara, Kitty Kantilla (C.1928-2003) and Freda Warlapinni (C.1928-2003) who were predominately producing works on paper and linen, and also artists, such as Paddy Freddy Puruntatameri (c.1925-2000), who were eager to see the tradition of carving continued through the art centre . These older, established figures of Tiwi Art created a rigorous framework at the centre and many of the second-generation artists who continue to practice at Jilamara today established themselves during this period, under their informal guidance.
Early fabric workshop with James Bennett
A number of early projects undertaken by Jilamara artists also helped to establish the centre’s reputation. These included the landmark Tiwi exhibition ‘Our Designs on Bark’, held at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne, in 1991. Since then artists have participated in numerous high profile exhibitions within Australia and Internationally, including Germany, Holland and the UK. More recently, the inclusion of Jilamara’s artists in major exhibitions such as ‘Perspecta’ at AGNSW, ‘Primavera’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, The X-strata Coal Award at the Queensland Art Gallery and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, has helped to ensure the critical reputation of Tiwi Art is maintained well into a second generation.
In 2007 the ‘First Old Lady’ of Jilamara, Kitty Kantilla, was honoured with a major retrospective, curated by Judith Ryan and accompanied by an extensive monograph, held at the NGV and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.