Painter Warmun Lena Nyadbi Recognized as One of the Country’s Most Important Artists
A remote Aboriginal community in northern Western Australia is celebrating the work of one of its finest artists, internationally acclaimed painter Lena Nyadbi.
Ms Nyadbi, who is known in Warmun as a fun-loving woman who enjoys telling stories about her country through her artwork, has now been made an Officer of the Order of Australia.
His reputation in the Western art world is of international significance, stretching from his remote home in the East Kimberley to the rooftop of a Parisian gallery.
The peak of Ms. Nyadbi’s career came in 2013 when her painting Dayiwul Ngarrangarni (Barramundi Dreaming) was displayed on the roof of the Musée du Quai Branly.
The massive black and white installation was designed to be viewed from the Eiffel Tower.
Ms. Nyadbi later recalled that as she stood on the tower’s observation deck, surrounded by European media and art connoisseurs, and gazed at her work, her only thoughts were her home.
“This fish… it’s next to another river, but it’s a long way from its home country,” she told the Kimberley Echo a year later.
From station attendant to revered artist
Ms. Nyadbi’s life as a respected international entertainer is a far cry from her harsh upbringing as an indentured servant on a cattle ranch.
His talent for visual storytelling was not recognized until later in life when the elders of Gija showed him how to paint their country.
Warmun Art Center chief executive Melissa Callanan said Ms Nyadbi was one of many acclaimed artists in the community.
“I love his art and his style”
Gija Country stretches roughly from the bottom of Lake Argyle to Purnululu National Park and features some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country.
Pink diamonds were mined south of Lake Argyle until 2020, but in the artist’s mind the gems are the scales of a huge barramundi that fled as three women chased it through the region’s orange spinifex-studded mountains.
Gija artist Madeline Purdie said the story was both funny and heartfelt.
“The three ladies hunting barramundi turned into rocks and it’s a special place for women,” she said.
Ms Nyadbi, believed to be in her 80s, now lives with dementia in a Halls Creek nursing home.
But Ms Purdie said until recently she was a dedicated mentor.
“I’m so proud…she deserves this honor,” Ms Purdie said.
“She’s a real artist. I learned by watching her paint with natural ochres.
“I used to tell him that I liked his style and his art.”
Elderly artists desperate to spend their final years in the country
Ms Nyadbi cannot spend her final years in the country of Gija because a series of bureaucratic blunders means that a nursing home for the elderly in Warmun remains closed, seven years after it was built.
The situation has forced other older people from Gija to live in settlements in Kununurra and Halls Creek, making it harder for them to pass on their cultural knowledge to the next generation of artists.