Mabel Wakarta is a senior Martu artist. Born around the 1920’s at Yirijara, she is (most likely) the oldest artist working at Martumili Artists in Newman, a remote town in the Pilbara, Western Australia.
Despite her diminutive frame and receding eyesight she paints with fervour and force. Wakarta paints canvases or board on the ground and while I was there, before a new canvas had been readied for her, she continued to paint on the cushion she was sitting on, such is the intensity of her resolve to lay paint down.
Wakarta’s work is dynamic, vibrant and engaging, recently being recognised in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Artbank and the National Museum of Australia as part of the Canning Stock Route project. She is currently working toward a solo show at Tunbridge Gallery in Margaret River later this year.
A bit more about Mabel Wakarta (thanks to Martumili Artists for this information):
Mabel’s parents were both Warnman people whose country encompassed Tarl, Nayijara and Jurntu Jurntu. Warnman country crosses the Canning Stock Route. Mabel grew up in the pujiman (bush) way until, in a run of very bad seasons, her parents, her brother and her sister all passed away. Following that terrible time, Mabel and some other family members walked through Karlamilyi (Rudall River), Talawana and into Jigalong Mission. Mabel was an adult when she arrived at Jigalong and went to work cooking, washing and cleaning houses. She worked for many years on Roy Hill, Ethel Creek and Bonney Downs Stations as well as several stations to the south of Martu country. Mabel was married to Wakarta but he passed away in Jigalong a long time ago. Mabel paints her ngurra (home) and her warrarn (country) to teach the young so that they can learn to paint, too. When Mabel first started painting she was living in Irrungadji Community with Lily Long and Amy French. As such, the subject of many of her paintings is Irrungadji.
I have photographed many Martu artworks over the years, shooting the WA Indigenous Art Awards and also shooting a book accompanying an exhibition of Martu work, called We Don’t Need a Map . Having met some of the exhibiting artists on their trips to the Fremantle Arts Centre for the first We Don’t Need a Map exhibition, I was very curious about where these incredible artworks came from. On this recent trip to Newman it was my absolute honour to be rubbing shoulders with many artists, including Wakarta, in their work environment, seeing first hand their working styles and watching some incredible artworks evolve. The demand for work from this arts centre is huge nationally and internationally – and this has much to do not only with the high quality of work coming from the Martumili Artists but it’s excellent arts management team. A huge thank you to Gabrielle, Carly and Mabel for being so welcoming to me (and my camera).
We Don’t Need a Map, touring nationally, is currently showing at McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery, continuing on at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre Gallery from 5th December. For further information on Wakarta’s upcoming solo show, check in soon with Tunbridge Gallery.