Robyn Djunginy / Karen Mills — Twined: Weaving and Abstraction — 24 July to 30 September 2010
Robyn Djunginy and Karen Mills
Curated by Fiona MacDonald
24 July to 30 September 2010
Paintings by Robyn Djunginy and Karen Mills share an unforced but incidentally profound mediation on weaving as the artistic underlay and support for Indigenous values and culture. One artist has lived a traditional life in central Arnhem Land, the other lives in Darwin. Their works suggest cultural intersections and the process of hybridisation: objects and their representation encompass both negative and positive space, disclosing and withholding. This change of state — twining and untwining — is continuous.
Robyn Djunginy is renowned for her paintings and woven sculptures of Morandi-like bottle forms referring to a site of the honey ancestors located near the Ramingining township and, more pointedly, to discarded grog bottles. As Djon Mundine, the former Bula’bula Arts Centre curator, put it in the Biennale of Sydney catalogue, The Everyday (1998), this is ‘chianti-art’ with teeth.
In Djunginy’s slow paintings everything is precise, nothing is superfluous; vessel forms float in fields of cross-hatching aligned at right angles, similar to warp and weft. These gradually transform from utilitarian or sacred vessels, depending on context, into allegories about a state of being. A discarded bottle becomes an abstract form and something miraculous.
Karen Mills’s paintings also explore weaving as abstract painting and as parables wherein threads disappear into a state reminiscent of organic landscape or absence. The loop stitch technique commonly used by Aboriginal women to make bags from bush string is a metaphor for identity and its processes of connection and disconnection, birth and disintegration. Mills’s paintings, however, reference both Indigenous weaving and the memory of her adoptive European mother’s hand-knitted woollen clothing.
While Karen Mills’s white-on-white paintings hauntingly speak about her return to the Northern Territory seeking her Aboriginal birth mother and her cultural heritage, the serial nature of her installations tip their hat to contemporary abstract art, from On Kawara to Katarina Fritsch’s knitworks.
As art and craft demarcations loosened in the 1990s, the outstanding fibre forms created by Djunginy’s generation of women were re-evaluated in landmark shows Re-coil (co-curators Margie West and Karen Mills, 2007) and Floating Life (Queensland Art Gallery, 2009). This is Karen Mills’s first Sydney exhibition.
Robyn Djunginy belongs to the Ganalbingu group. Her sisters and brother, fellow weaver Elizabeth Djutarra and painters Dorothy Djukulul and George Milpurrurru, have also appeared in previous Sydney Biennales.
Robyn Djunginy – Artist of the Year 2011
Congratulations to Robyn Djunginy, proud Yolngu woman, respected elder and artist, who was celebrated as National Artist of the Year at the National NAIDOC Awards Ceremony and Ball held in Sydney on 8 July 2011.
As an acclaimed fibre artist and painter, Robyn Djunginy has participated in significant exhibitions nationally and internationally for two decades. Her paintings comment on weaving as the artistic underlay and support for Indigenous culture and community. She was one of the artists contributing to the Aboriginal Memorial in 1988 and came to international notice in the 1998 Biennale of Sydney. Curator Djon Mundine OAM wrote on Robyn Djunigny for this Biennale describing her work as ‘a witty play with the idea that traditional painting is static’ and as work that introduces a social critique using abstract forms.
Robyn Djunginy participated in the exhibition ‘conversation’ Twined (with Karen Mills) at The Cross Art Projects, Sydney and Twining (with Debra Dawes, Karen Mills and Fiona MacDonald) at 24 Hour Arts, Darwin, both shows looking at contemporary art concepts from cross-cultural perspectives.
A board member of the Bula’Bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation, Robyn is currently working to develop a number of projects that will have significant impact on contemporary art in Australia and provide a platform for cultural exchange.