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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.


by Rebecca Ray, 7 December 2022

Betty Muffler
Betty Muffler, 2021 Robert Fielding. © Robert Fielding and Mimili Maku Arts

Standing in front of Robert Fielding’s photographs of An-angu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Traditional Owners, I feel a sense of cultural energy. Each of the 24 faces stares out at me, their eyes drawing me in. Up close I see how technically beautiful each photograph is, the slightly off-centre composition, the gentle tonal range of oranges, browns and blacks. These works are intimate painterly portraits, pushing well beyond the realm of social documentary.

An artist of Pakistani, Afghan, Western Arrernte and Yankunytjatjara descent, Fielding lives in the community of Mimili, in the far north west of South Australia on the remote APY Lands. A former cattle station, Everard Park, Mimili was returned to Aboriginal ownership through the 1981 APY Land Rights Act. Storylines relating to this manta (land) traditionally belong to the Yankunytjatjara people, but today approximately 250 Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people live in Mimili united as walytja (family) as An-angu.

Seeing through a contemporary lens and anchored by his strong cultural roots, Fielding’s practice explores the tensions between community life and global concerns. Often visually responding to the devasting impacts of colonisation, from the legacies of the Stolen Generations to the ongoing physical destruction of Country, Fielding articulates his intrinsic connection to the landscape through law, culture and ceremony.

For Fielding, Mimili is a place of peace, love and commitment, and the photographs in his Mayatjara series embody those feelings. Embedded in the principals and relationships of community and culture, the works are a visual articulation of the embrace of Elders, acknowledging the important knowledge and wisdom they hold. Meaning From my Elders, Fielding describes the series as eternal stories: ‘They are held onto, or given away, for a moment only, but they are eternally present in song, dance, language, place, earth and spirit.’

As a group, Fielding’s photographic portraits express a sense of oneness between the community and the land. All of the sitters chosen by Fielding are associated with the APY Art Centre Collective, a group of ten Indigenous-owned and governed enterprises, which includes the Mimili Maku and Iwantja art centres. Here artists come together to share storylines and create strong foundations for intergenerational exchange and learning, celebrating and maintaining An-angu knowledge.

Sammy Dodd, for example, is renowned for his cultural authority and craftsmanship of kulata (spears), sharing traditional skills with the younger generations. Betty Muffler is a ngangkar-i (traditional healer), whose celebrated artworks depicting healing sites are shaped by the devastation of her family’s community and Country in the aftermath of the British nuclear testing at Maralinga and Emu Field. Famed for his unique visual language, Tiger Yaltangki merges Indigenous and pop-culture mythologies in vibrant and whimsical artworks. The first An-angu woman to live in a remote community while being dependent on an electric wheelchair, Linda Puna is a fierce community leader and advocate for disability rights, and creates paintings full of resilience and joy.

‘Our Elders have given us our stories, and we will carry them brightly into the future,’ says Fielding. ‘When I photograph my Elders, there remains much secretiveness around them. Their eyes have seen much, their stories held in everything they do, everything they create. Their knowledge is part of us, our culture, our country, our future. Their presence is an unmoving reminder of the fact that we have been linked to this landscape since time immemorial.’

Related people

Robert Fielding

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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