THERE aren’t five generations of Drysdales or Whitley’s working now,” Scott Rankin, the director of Big hART theatre company, says.
Not, he might have added, like the Namatjira family, the subject of a unique exhibition showing at Parliament House through summer, brought to town by Big hART’s “Namatjira” project, Ngurratjuta Many Hands Art Centre and Ntaria (Hermannsburg) School.
The artists are descendants of the celebrated watercolor artist Albert Namatjira, whose name is synonymous with delicate visions of the landscapes in subtle, unexpected colours.
The exhibition, curated by Alison French, demonstrates the resilience of an artist’s family over five generations, coming to Canberra from a community that still faces challenges.
Once known in lounge rooms throughout Australia, Namatjira has in recent years been eclipsed by Central Australian artists famous for their dot paintings, but this show of watercolours, which brings together five generations of the Hermannsburg School, should help viewers to be “mindful of the incredible heritage on show… remarkable art from a fragile community,” as Rankin says.
Recently five senior Western Aranda watercolour artists and three young artists travelled from Ntaria and Alice Springs to Parliament House to unveil the exhibition of spectacular desert landscapes of the Hermannsburg watercolour movement across five generations, including an animation from students at the Ntaria School, shown alongside watercolours by Albert Namatjira himself.
Lenie Namatjira, granddaughter of Albert, told those present “we are teaching the young ones to paint – just like my family and the other Western Aranda watercolour painters once did.”
The Canberra trip was a response to the recognition the Namatjira family received in London when touring with Big hART’s production “Namatjira” in 2013. During their visit, descendants Lenie and Kevin Namatjira were invited to an audience with the Queen, who owns a number of Namatjira watercolours.
“It was a great honour to meet the Queen and to be able to tell her that we need help to get Aboriginal children to paint,” Lenie said.
With luck, Big hART believes, the exhibition will serve as an argument for housing and support of the Namatjiras’ art centre, to ensure that the fifth, sixth and seventh generations of the family can enjoy basic human rights and a sustainable arts practice.
“Namatjira to Now: Five Generations of Watercolours in the Central Desert,” Presiding Officer’s Exhibition Area, Parliament House, until February 9. Entry is free.