Lockhart River, Eastern Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, Australia born 1979
Stinging Rain ... him yah fall down ... afternoon time
Lockhart River, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Rosella Namok started panting on canvas in 1984 in her community of Lockhart River, a former mission settlement 800 kilometres north of Cairns. She was fifteen years old, and the Cairns TAFE had just established its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts course and organised a painting program to be run at Lockhart River. The program gave the young people of the community the opportunity to develop artistically and to tell their ancestral stories in the lasting form of paint on canvas, as opposed to the temporal arts of sand drawing and body painting.
Namok’s style of painting was derived from sand drawings, a practice taught to her by her grandmother, who, sitting on the beach and telling stories to the young women, would run her fingers through the sand, making marks before wiping them away to start anew. This traditional approach to sharing knowledge provided a strong foundation and cultural context to Namok’s contemporary art practice.
All of Namok’s works are personal in nature; they are stories of family, life and Country. The titles speak for the paintings. She paints what is before her. Growing up in the coastal region of far north Queensland, her Country, the stormy seas and monsoonal rains can be seen in her paintings. In a 2011 artist statement, she describes her inspiration for Stinging rain … him yah fall down … afternoon time:
Fishing down at Aangkum … my father’s Country. You can feel that wind blow … you know … late afternoon … just before dark. You feel just a bit of that rain fall down … feel that cold wind blow … you say … Ah rain, here ’e come. It starts to pour buckets of water … you can’t fish for long … you get numb … the kids get too cold. It’s always good when it starts to rain … it stings your face and stirs up the fish underneath.
Namok is widely known for her technique of layering thick paint onto the canvas and slowly stripping away the paint with her fingers and other implements to reveal what lies beneath. The method is central to her practice, harnessing the physicality of paint to gesture not only at the depth of knowledge and but also at the complexity of culture and how it manifests in the land.
The beauty of this striking work is in its balance and ambiguity. Where does the sky meet the water? Is there a distinction between them? Or does water simply return to water? This work seems to suggest that, in the monsoonal homelands of Namok’s people, such simple distinctions are reductive.
Kelli Cole Assistant Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
in artonview, issue 72, Summer 2012/13