Jadagen Warnkan Barnden: Changing Climate in Gija Country — 31 August to 21 September 2013


Shirley Purdie, Linyjil Ningi Binkany, 2013, (Cabbage Gum with
Sugar Leaf.) 80 x 60 cm, natural ochre and pigments on Belgian linen.
Gordon Barney, Joogoorrool (Bush Orange), 2013. 80 x 60 cm, natural ochre and pigments on Belgian linen    



Exhibition dates: Saturday 31 August to Saturday 21 September 2013

Opening Talks and catalogue launch: Thursday 12 September at 6pm, in the presence of Lena Nyadbi.

When he got hot now, really hot, we can't know whether he hot weather or cold weather or rain time. Rusty Peters 2013


These extraordinary paintings of biocultural landscapes by senior Gija artists show the seasonal indicators of weather and climate, including atypical and extreme events in the top end of Western Australia. Gija seasons are not tied to calendar months as in western society, but are directly linked to observed indicators within the environment. The title Jadagen Warnkan Barnden names the three primary seasons in the north of the Kimberley region: Wet Time, Cold Time and Hot Time. The participating senior artists are Gordon Barney, Churchill Cann, Betty Carrington, Mabel Juli, Nancy Nodea, Lena Nyadbi, Rusty Peters, Shirley Purdie and Mary Thomas.

The Jadagen Warnkan Barnden project weaves together the three disciplines of art, climate change and linguistics into a cross disciplinary exchange. The tcomes — the exhibition, climate language lists and catalogue — were generated by the artists and community elders to record and pass on Gija culture and knowledge to younger generations, in collaboration with environmental scientist Sonia Leonard, and linguist and cultural consultant Frances Kofod at Warmun Art Centre in 2012 and 2013.

The paintings show the expert witnessing of the impacts of climate change, and how Indigenous knowledge of biological and agricultural systems can offer important insight into how landscapes adapt to dramatic change. Extreme events and shifts in regional weather patterns mean that seasonal indicators are no longer as reliable as they once were and the pressures of modern society only compound these impacts further.

Indigenous peoples and local communities have participated very little in the global dialogue on climate change, yet they are increasingly facing extreme events such as the ‘big wet’ of 13 March 2011 when waters from Turkey Creek raged through Warmun Aboriginal Community (200 km south of Kununurra), flooding buildings including the Warmun Art Centre and artworks were either washed away or damaged. Many of the artists lost all they had. Churchill Cann depicts this flood while Rusty Peters, in Jabananggany (Big Storm from the South), vividly recalls a previous flood — 50 years earlier.

The Gija climate change corpus is part of the post-flood reconstruction triumph. It follows the restoration of some of the historic collection from the beginning of the Warmun Art Movement in the mid 1970s and is used to teach children about their culture. This year, artists Lena Nyadbi, Mabel Juli and Churchill Cann have been acclaimed: Nyadbi for her rooftop painting Jimbirlany (The Stone Spearhead) on the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, and Juli and Cann have each won a major national contemporary art award.

Traditional knowledge systems by their very nature are adaptive. Through observation they monitor change and provide response guidelines. A painting by Nancy Nodea, for example, shows the goorra-goorany (storm bird or the Channel Billed Cuckoo) arriving from the west. The bird's calls tell Gija people that the Jadagen (wet season) is coming, the rain will soon be here and travel across country will soon be difficult. Gija adapt their daily lives accordingly.

The renowned rock art paintings of the Kimberley document climate changes over thousands of years and are an important example of the use of art to conceptualise climate change. Today's Gija people live in a vastly different landscape to that of their ancestors. Even the invasion of the East Kimberley by Europeans as recently as 1884 made dramatic changes as cattle destroyed traditional water holes and springs. Yet the traditional ecological knowledge depicted in rock art galleries has been passed down the generations through song, dance and story, remaining strong within contemporary Aboriginal life. Art encapsulates the multiple dimensions of socio-ecological relationships, allowing people to visualise concepts and think through issues on multiple levels of consciousness.



02changingclimateinstall.jpg 03.jpg  
Shirley Purdie, Jilirr-Jilirrji Doo Jiregem (The Long Yam and the Birds), 2013. 100 x 140 cm, natural ochres and pigments on linen.
Installation view, 2013 showing: Mabel Juli, Ngawoonyji (Pencil Yam) and Ngoomelji Doo Malngirriny (Cloud and Lightning, Wet Time), 2013. Both 60 x 80 cm
Rusty Peters, Goowoolem Barndem (Trees in the Hot Time), 2013. 60 x 80 cm  
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Rusty Peters, Girinyil (The Katydid Grasshopper), 2013. Ochres on linen, 100 x 140 cm (WAC209/13).
Rusty Peters, Barranggan Barnden (Living Water in the Hot Time), 2013. Natural ochres on linen, 60 x 80 cm  Rusty Peters, Jabananggany (Big Storm from the South), 2013. Ochres on linen, 60 x 80 cm (WAC98/13)  
01nancy.jpg 02lena.jpg 03mary.jpg
Nancy Nodea, Goorra Goorral (The Storm Bird or the Channel Billed Cuckoo), 2013. (WAC221/13)
80 x 60 cm
Lena Nyadbi, Dayiwool (The Barramundi), 2013.  (WAC383/13) 80 x 60 cm Mary Thomas, Warrarnany Warnkan (The Wedge Tail Eagle in the Cold Time), 2013. (WAC99/13) 80 x 60 cm  


The Gija climate change meetings are part of a wider Kimberley project about Indigenous Perceptions of Climate Change based at Melbourne University. Before working with the Indigenous Perceptions of Climate Change project, Sonia Leonard worked with the Bureau of Meteorology and the Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre in Kununurra to produce the Miriwoong Seasonal Calendar. (See link below.)  Frances Kofod wrote the Gija Dictionary (2013) and is a long-term collaborator working with senior artists on Kimberley history.

The Indigenous Perceptions of Climate Change project funded by the National Climate Change Adaption Research Facility (NCCARF) asks questions about how we can learn from this knowledge and resilience. For example, how do scientists understand and build multi-layered processes of extension at the local level? What roles do language and culture play in building community capacity for dealing with climate change? It is an opportunity to explore the benefits of community-based approaches that integrate local knowledge systems with adaptation planning approaches to build resistant communities. Through this process we help bridge the gap between traditional knowledge and western science.

The linkages between story, language and landscape are mainfest in the accompanying publication / document Jadagen Warnkan Barnden published by Warmun Art Centre. Here the three key external contributors, Alana Hunt (workshop coordinator), Frances Kofod and Sonia Leonard, have each written of the ways in which traditional knowledge connects Gija culture intimately to the landscape. As Adam Boyd writes for Warmun Art Centre: 'The artists share their knoweldge in the Gija way, through ochre on canvas and in story'. This truly interdisciplinary approach is a step forward towards a constructive response to the pressing global problem of climate change that includes Indigenous voices and agency.



Mabel Juli, Ngoomelji Doo Malngirriny (Cloud and Lightning, Wet Time), 2013. WAC95/13, Climate project. 80 x 60 cm. Natural ochre and pigments on Belgian linen.
Mabel Juli, Ngawoonyji (Pencil Yam), 2013. WAC102/13, Climate project. 80 x 60 cm. Natural ochre and pigments on Belgian linen.



About Jadagen Warnkan Barnden artists:

Gordon BarneyLoog-ngayirriny, also called Lawoony, was born at Alice Downs and worked as a stockman until moving to Warmun Community where along with his wife, Shirley Purdie, he is one of the key Gija elders. He has been painting with Warmun Arts since 1998.

Churchill CannYoonany, was born at Texas Downs Station east of Warmun. He worked as a stockman from an early age. Riding in the bush with his elders was a way of being in the country and absorbing knowledge from his elders while working in a white man’s world caring for cattle on the station. After many years as a bushman working on stations, Churchill began painting for Waringarri Arts in the 1990s. His choice of title for a recent Warmun Art Centre exhibition at Mora Galleries, Melbourne, Joolany Wariwoony — Cheeky Dog, is based in his dreaming the Jarrinyin: a kind of devil dog described by the artist as having ‘a long neck like a giraffe’.

Churchill Cann won the 2013 WA artist of year award at Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Betty CarringtonMarayal, was born at Texas Downs to the east of Warmun. She is the youngest and only surviving sibling of renowned Gija teacher and artist Hector Jandany. She has been painting with Warmun Arts since it was established in 1998. Her subjects include ngarranggarni — dreaming stories, depictions of dance events and bush animals and food such as the notable cold weather indicator Goonjal — the Kapok Bush.

Mabel JuliBardngarri, is usually called Wirringgoon — ‘the Cockatiel’ because she had a little tuft of hair like the cockatiel’s crest when she was a child. A prolific artist, her signature works are concerned with Garnkeny, the Moon and Wardal, the Star, the promised wife he rejected when still a man. She was the 2013 winner of the Kate Challis RAKA Award at Melbourne University's Ian Potter Museum of Art, an annual invitation-only award for Indigenous artists. Judges said her use of natural pigments conveyed the potency of country and the ancient, enduring essence of the ngarranggarni (dreaming). 

Her enthusiastic participation in the Jadagen Warnkan Barnden project demonstrates her deep understanding of Gija traditional ecological knowledge on many levels. Older sister of Rusty Peters, she was born at Six Mile on Moolabulla Station just south of Springvale Station where she spent most of her early life.

Nancy NodeaWarlambal, was born at Texas Downs Station east of Warmun like many of the older pioneering Warmun artists. Her ochre paintings in subtle colour mixes depicting hills, trees and dreaming places follow the tradition established by her older compatriot Queenie McKenzie. Her two sons, Gabriel and Mark, are both artists who also work at Warmun Art Centre.

Lena Nyadbi — After years of station work, including time riding stock horses, she began painting for Warmun Art Centre. She achieved international status with her depiction of her father’s dreaming country, Jimbirlany — The Stone Spearhead, chosen to be part of a wall installation at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. In early 2013 her design based on her mother’s dreaming, Dayiwul Lirlmim  — Barramundi Scales, was added to the building in a stunning roof installation visible from the Eiffel Tower. She was nominated for the prestigious annual Deadly Awards as Visual Artist of the Year in September 2013.

Rusty PetersDirrji is a senior Gija artist who was born on Springvale Station in about 1935. He is renowned for his commanding and philosophical works such as the Two Laws One Big Spirit series and Water Brain, about the development of consciousness as a human grows from birth to adulthood (now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales). He helped found Gija cultural and maintenance programs at the community school working with Hector Jandany and George Mung Mung and was a long-term assistant of Rover Thomas. He lost everything he owned in the 2011 flood.

Shirley PurdieBirrmarriya, started painting for Waringarri Arts during the 1990s along with founding elders Queenie McKenzie and Rover Thomas. She has been painting with the Warmun Art Centre since its inception in 1998. Her works cover a wide range of subjects including her ancestral land and its associated stories both from the ngarranggarni — dreamtime and its recent history as well as Christian religious works. She won the Blake Prize in 2007. She is a passionate advocate of recording and passing on traditional ecological knowledge for future generations.

Mary Thomas — lived in the bush with her grandmother learning the life skills necessary for survival. She was one of the leaders and teachers of the younger women in Warmun Art Centre song and dance events until a recent illness left her unable to walk. She is a Gija language teacher and has been a key participant in Gija community healing activities.




Presented in association with Warmun Art Centre and the National Climate Change Adaption Research Facility (NCCARF).


ANKAAA Arts Backbone: Volume 13, Issue 1 August 2013 > Download pdf

ANKAAA Arts Backbone: Volume 13, Issue 2 > Download pdf

Review: Jeremy Eccles, ‘Warmun all over’, Aboriginal Art Directory at http://news.aboriginalartdirectory.com/2013/09/warmun-all-over.php

Jadagen Warkan Barnden digital catalogue > Download pdf

Jadagen Warkan Barnden colour print catalogue available from The Cross Art Projects and Warmun Art Centre. RRP is $45 plus post of $5 (aud).

Jadaden  Warnkan Barnden - Changing Climate in Gija Country, at Goulburn Regional Art Gallery: on the impact of climate change on farming, regional and traditional communities. Presented by Warnum Art Centre in the Kimberley, courtesy of The Cross Arts Projects, Sydney - Download pdf

In association with What Lies Beneath? presented by the Southern Highlands 'No Fracking' coalition. From 20 November to 11 December 2013. - Download pdf

Plus The Stuttering Frog - download pdf - alongside the exhibition Leave it in the Ground at Articulate project space, presented by The Williams River Valley Artists' Project in the Hunter Valley as a stand against environmental degradation.