Country and culture on show in Perth

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The work of a renowned Bidyadanga artist will form part of a landmark Kimberley exhibition at the Art Gallery of WA next year.

Daniel Walbidi’s work has been revealed as the first of eight commissions created for upcoming Aboriginal art exhibition Desert River Sea: Portraits of the Kimberley.

The wide-ranging exhibtion of Kimberley art will be presented as part of the Perth Festival from February 9.

For Desert River Sea, Walbidi has painted Wirnpa — the jila (living water), which is a central motif in his art practice.

Created with salt and paint pigment, the artwork will be a large-scale representation of the landscape of Walbidi’s ancestors after growing up listening to the Dreaming stories associated with the vast desert landscape of the Great Sandy Desert and its fresh waterholes filled with the “living water”.

Wirnpa is both a salt lake in Walbidi’s traditional country in Bidyadanga and a Serpent Man, who is a powerful creation spirit. Walbidi’s desert ancestry and coastal community life will be merged in the work, exploring the idea of permanance and flux of country and culture with a focus on the transient nature of creation.

Walbidi’s three sons also accompany Wirnpa in the creation story, with all four figures represented as four waterholes present in the salt lake.

The work will feature in the exhibition as a two-part display with a site-specific installation using coloured pool salts to recreate Wirnpa, alongside an accompanying video work.

Art Gallery of WA director Stefano Carboni said he was delighted to introduce Walbidi’s new work as the first in the Desert River Sea exhibition.

“His work powerfully conveys a sense of the magnificent spaces of Australia and the continued importance of country,” he said.

“I look forward to announcing more works in the coming months, which will feature in the extraordinary exhibition opening in February.”

Joining Walbidi in the Desert River Sea exhibition will be Darrell and Garry Sibosado (Lombadina) and Kira Kiro Art Centre (Kalumburu), along with artist collectives from Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency (Fitzroy Crossing), Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts (Kununurra), Warlayirti Artists (Balgo), and Warmun Art Centre.

AGWA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art curator Carly Lane said the exhibition was the exciting culmination of the innovative Desert River Sea project.

“The six-year project saw a new model of collaboration between the Art Gallery of WA and the arts centres and artists of the Kimberley region,” she said.

“Founded on continual exchange and collaboration between AGWA and the artists, the project and exhibition were ultimately shaped by the people and the places of the Kimberley. The exhibition reflects this recognition of cultural ownership and self-determination and the result is an exciting, experimental and current look at contemporary Aboriginal art in the Kimberley.

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