Daniel WALBIDI, Kirriwirri Enlarge 1 /1


Mangala/Yulparija peoples

Bidyadanga, Western Australia, Australia born 1983

Kirriwirri 2014 Place made: Bidyadanga community (La Grange), Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on linen

Dimensions: 180.0 h x 150.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2014
Accession No: NGA 2014.1711
Image rights: Courtesy the artist and Short St Gallery, Broome

Kirriwirri 2014 is an energetic new work by Daniel Walbidi, an acclaimed artist whose vision as a painter has gone far beyond the scope of others in the Kimberley region. He has an uncanny ability to continually produce masterpieces, each different from the other yet progressive in style. They reflect the complex desert landscape, full of life, colour and intensity.

Walbidi paints in a meticulous and measured manner, and his skill lies in the unique rendering of his work. His segmented paintings are layered with meaning and the desert hues of his Country but would not be complete with out his signature silver and gold creating veins and crevices that are reflected in the warla (salt lakes) of his Country. He paints ‘satellite’ views of Country in a polished and sophisticated way; he has a slightly stylised yet complex understanding and representation of the traditional Country of his ancestors, the Yulparija people of the central Great Sandy Desert.

The Yulparija people, however, were forced to walk off their Country in the 1960s and 1970s after a prolonged drought. They walked 250 kilometres north-west until they settled at the La Grange Mission in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Before it was transferred to the Pious Society of Missions (Pallottines), La Grange Mission was known as La Grange Feeding Depot; now it is called Bidyadanga. Walbidi grew up in this small coastal community, but was taught his people’s Dreaming tracks, or song lines, through the oral and artistic traditions of his Elders.

Walbidi showed a strong interest in painting as a child and created wonderful images of Dreaming narratives. His chance to return to the birthplace of his father, however, did not come until many years later in 2007, when, as a young emerging artist in his mid twenties, he and a small group of senior Yulparija artists returned to their Country for the first time since departing forty odd years earlier. On the journey, the Elders and cultural leader disclosed their cultural knowledge of the Country. It was an emotional time for all, particularly the elderly members of the group, who could finally reacquaint themselves with their ancestors. For younger members, such as Walbidi, it was a journey of discovery.

Walbidi was also able to get a bird’s eye view of the Country while flying over the area in a helicopter. Only then did he fully comprehend the depth of his paternal inheritance. He returned from the experience with not only a strong sense of connection to Country but also a deeper understanding of it. An understanding he seeks to share with others inside and outside his community.

Kelli Cole, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

in artonview, issue 80, Summer 2014