Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe (From My Women) by Shirley Purdie, senior Gija artist, 2018. This work uses natural ochre and pigments on canvas.

This expansive work is composed of 36 individual canvas panels, each 45 cm square, arranged in a rectangular grid of 4 rows of 9, forming a work that is 5 and a half metres wide and 2 and a half metres tall. It is a non-representational self-portrait informed by Aboriginal ways of seeing and understanding the world. The panels show traditional Gija stories, personal stories and Ngarranggarni (the Gija dreaming).

The ochres used to make this work create a palette of warm earthy colour that is consistent across the panels: rust reds; deep warm browns; earthy oranges; mustard and sandy yellows; olive greens; grey blues; and dusty pinks, along with black and white. The art style is simplified, the forms flattened, and the ochre gives the work a subtle texture, with the appearance of fine sandpaper. The points of view vary from close-up to far away, and from front-on to bird’s-eye view. The subjects of each panel are lined with fine white dot-work.

The top row of paintings show stories of kinship, introducing significant women from both sides of Shirley Purdie’s family, with most panels showing individual native animals. From left to right, these panels show: a snake; a bush turkey; a black crow; a rock wallaby; 2 panels of mound-like shapes; a turtle; an emu; and a brolga. The mound-like shapes in the centre panels resemble termite mounds, or doorways with rounded tops. They’re arranged in both panels in a grid, 3 rows with 4 mounds in each row, and each mound uses a different colour taken from the work’s palette.

The second row of paintings depicts specific places, experiences and activities. From left to right they are: a river flowing between hills; trees on a hillside; a single tall tree; a river flowing down a hill; a person sitting between 2 trees alongside a dog, a cat, a kangaroo and a bird; 3 people with 3 dogs across a valley from a white man; a woman next to a washing line in front of a homestead; 6 people gathered together in a circle; and 2 people and a dog in the back of a ute.

The third row of paintings come from Ngarranggarni, the Gija dreaming. From left to right: a landscape with hills in the background; 6 animals on a sandy background including 3 birds, as well as a grub, a cocoon and a moth; a more abstract piece of organic shapes; a leafy tree by the water; 2 people by a tree that shows its roots; a river flowing between hills to a person next to a tree; a reptile beneath an arc of many colours resembling a rainbow; a tall tree alone on a rock; and an abstract piece of earthy colours resembling the paths of rivers from above.

The fourth row of paintings features stories from Ngarranggarni, memories, relationships, and country. From left to right: a lone tree; a landscape scene showing a river, with hills in the background and 3 animals taking refuge in a cave with a person outside it; a scene from above a river flowing through a circular body of water, each side of the circle flanked by sandy patches on its banks and a tree; an echidna next to a small log fire; 2 people standing at a tree; a person standing by a river under a crescent moon over hills; 6 people in traditional dress gathered around a fire; a river flowing past hills under a dark sky; and a single leafy tree standing on a mound of earth.

Audio description written by Marina Neilson and voiced by Krysia Kitch