THANAKUPI, Cammbel and Paour pot Enlarge 1 /4
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Dhaynagwidh (Thaynakwith) people

Queensland, Australia 1937 – 2011

Cammbel and Paour pot [Cammbel the crocodile and Paour the blue tongue lizard exchanging teeth pot] 1982 Place made: Trinity Beach, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: ceramics, stoneware, stoneware, handbuilt with incised decoration painted with white slip and earth oxides

Dimensions: 33.0 h x 36.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1999
Accession No: NGA 99.76

In the history of modern Indigenous art, Thanakupi is a pioneer. She was among the first Aboriginal artists to work in clay and has developed a virtuosity and originality all her own. Her art is a contemporary expression of her people’s—the Thainakuith’s—ancestral narratives and law, handed down from one generation to the next, over millennia.

As a senior elder of the Thainakuith, Thanakupi is a custodian of a vast range of knowledge of language and songs, stories and law, as well as of traditional foods and medicines, and she uses her art as a vehicle to educate both her own people and others about her culture.

For Thanakupi, the use of clay sets up a remarkable dichotomy. Traditionally, the Thainakuith baked balls of coloured clay with which to decorate sacred objects and to paint participants’ bodies in ceremony. Thanakupi first encountered ceramics when she enrolled in an art course at East Sydney Technical College, far from her home in Weipa, western Cape York. Yet traditionally Thainakuith women were forbidden to touch the soft substance of clay. She obtained permission from her people to use the medium and now records their stories in stylised figures incised into the surfaces of these once taboo vessels. Thanakupi developed the spherical form of her pots in the 1980s. It is based on the symbolism of the circle in Aboriginal culture, where the circle can represent fire, the earth, motherhood and unity.

In many ways Thanakupi’s work embodies the spirit in which many laws and traditions have been relaxed in order to allow Aboriginal people to adapt and survive in a new world.

Bruce McLean

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010