On Display: QAG, Gallery 4
This is the big swamp near Aurukun. There are many different coloured waterlilies and plenty of birds at the swamp. People used to go to the swamp and get the roots of the waterlilies for food and medicine.1
Perhaps Mavis Ngallametta’s most striking group of works is her pamp (swamp) series. Many associate swamps with stagnant water, algae and putrid mud. In contrast, Ngallametta’s swamps are picturesque lagoons that ring the community of Aurukun in the post-wet season. In these lagoons, crystal clear fresh water abounds, tainted only by the tea-coloured tannins of the melaleuca trees lining the banks.
One of the artist’s earliest works, Pamp (Swamp) resulted from the women’s painting sessions at the Wik and Kugu Art Centre in Aurukun. The Aurukun women often depicted the riotous scenes of post-wet season abundance in their works. Many of Mavis’s early works were likewise bold and celebratory — swamps with brightly coloured waterlilies, people collecting flowers, and families fishing and camping at their favourite spots.
1. Mavis Ngallametta, quoted in QAGOMA Research Library Collection Artist File, 2015.
Mavis Ngallametta was born in 1944 into the Marbunt family of the Kugu people on their traditional country, near the Kendall River in west Cape York Peninsula. An elder of the Putch clan and a cultural leader of the Wik and Kugu people of Aurukun, Mavis is remembered for her rich legacy to her community and to art and culture nationally. Mavis embarked on her journey to become a painter relatively late in life — she did not pick up a paintbrush until 2008, at the age of 64.
Mavis lived a traditional life in the bush until she was around five, when her family was moved to the Presbyterian Mission at Aurukun. She maintained connections with family members and elders despite this upheaval, and, in time, learnt to weave dilly bags and fruit bowls made from cabbage palm and pandanus. As a result, she was first recognised for her weaving using traditional materials, which later expanded to include recycled driftnets and marine debris.
In 2008, Ngallametta began making small paintings depicting important cultural sites, and from 2010, her works grew in scale. Mavis tended to depict sites of personal significance in her paintings. Recurring subjects include Ikalath, where she collected white clay; her traditional country of Kendall River; Wutan, a camping site belonging to her adopted son Edgar; and various pamp, or swamps, dotted around Aurukun.
1. In her early works, Mavis Ngallametta drew on a number of different styles and perspectives. Pamp (swamp) 2009 recalls the work of another Queensland artist William Robinson and his painting Four Seasons 1987. Compare the use of composition and perspective in these works and discuss the representation of time.
2. In this work, Mavis Ngallametta depicts a swamp bursting with life. Looking at the painting, what sorts of sounds do you think you would hear coming from a swamp? What elements of the work suggested these sounds to you?
1. Research the Aurukun wetlands and the native flora and fauna (see Department of Environment and Science, Queensland, ‘Wetland ecology’, WetlandInfo, viewed March 2020). Gather images of different plants and animals from the area. Create a collage that represents the wetlands and demonstrates why this place is significant.
2. Experiment with representing contrasting bodies of water — still versus moving, muddy versus clear, low light versus sun-lit. Reflect on how you changed your approach to express the differences between the two.