Billy Missi / Kala Lagaw Ya people / Australia 1970–2012 / Kulba yadail (Old lyrics) 2006 / Linocut on paper, ed. 16/90 / 84.7 x 47.8cm / Purchased 2009 with funds from Xstrata Community Partnership Program Queensland through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Billy Missi

Billy Missi
Kulba yadail (Old lyrics) 2006

Not Currently on Display

Woodcarving is one of the most important art forms in the Torres Strait, as it is in many Pacific cultures. Masters would carve many ceremonial and utilitarian items and decorate them in the rhythmic patterning known as minaral. Today, many young Islander men apply these skills to printmaking.

Billy Missi stated that ‘Kulba Yadail (the swaying pattern that runs diagonally from the top left to the bottom right) teaches us to read the stars, the moon and the sea . . .  it describes our environment, our culture and also our identity.’

Billy Missi was born in 1970 on Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait. He worked as a deep sea diver, fishing for crayfish. He became interested in art in 1992 after seeing a display of paintings by local Torres Strait Islander artists. When he met Dennis Nona and saw his printmaking, he was encouraged to give up diving and to study under Nona in the local TAFE program.

Together with Alick Tipoti, Victor Motlop, Andrew Williams, David Bosun and Dennis Nona, Missi was involved in establishing a printmaking studio at the Mualgau Minnaral art centre through the Kubin Community Council on Moa island. Stylistically the work produced in this studio differs from traditional Torres Strait Islander art as most of the members have trained at the Cairns TAFE. Usually the creation stories told by these artists are depicted in the centre of the print, while the finely incised background patterns relate to particular cultural groups of the Torres Strait Islands.

The themes in Missi’s prints are inspired by his environment, family traditions, local culture and customs, mythology and stories.