Munga Ilkari & Ngayuku Ngura: The Night Sky & My Country from Vicki Cullinan & Betty Chimney

4 - 24 September 2020

Betty Chimney lived for many years near Iwantja Creek in the community of Indulkana in the APY Lands. She was raised by artist Alec Bakers father who was a senior law man in the community. Her evocative paintings mark out the country around Indulakna. She shows important creeks, roads, rock formations and dry creek beds using lines and shifts in colour. The immense and furrowed desert landscape is bought to life by Betty’s hand as she draws our eye to the beauty of tone and shape in her desert country.

Betty Chimney explains, ‘Iwantja is the name of a creek where the Indulkana Community was established, the creek runs from high up in the rocky ridge all the way down to the community. There’s a tjukitji (soakage) there and different tjukula (rock-holes) too – these were really important water sources for Anangu before there were bores or water tanks. There’s also a very special site, a specific tree that holds the Tjurki (native owl) Tjukurpa. My paintings include all these sites, and my colours and marks reflect the way the landscape changes from the rocky ridge to the sandy creek beds. I love making these beautiful paintings, I make them to show the next generations how special this place is.’

Vicki Cullinan’s paintings depict Munga Ilkari, the night sky. It symbolises an omniscient force in the remote communities of the APY Lands. Vicki learnt by example, observing artists at the studio until she was able to develop her own voice as an artist. Vicki is now a community leader and exceptional painter who exhibits regularly across Australia. Cullinan’s sublime paintings build up layers of paint creating whorls of colour that streak the canvas, forging ephemeral artworks that are evocative of the night sky. The result is a balance of light and dark, calm and energy that is mesmerising. Cullinan has compared her sky paintings to landscapes, mimicking the beauty of her country both by day and by night. 

As Vicki says, ‘My paintings are of Munga Ilkari (the night sky), they’re like landscape paintings but they show the sky and stars instead of the country. For Anangu the stars hold Tjukurpa (Ancestral cultural stories) just like the country - the rock holes, hills and creeks – have Tjukurpa. One main one is the Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters) Tjukurpa where a specific constellation represents the sisters and the cheeky man chasing after them. At night in the desert, when I look to the sky – heavy with stars, I feel at my most calm. The sky is the largest presence watching these lands. It holds all our ancestral stories from a long time ago. It watches every day what happens in our community; the chaos, the beauty, the hard times, the laughter. The sky sees and knows everything. It holds all this energy and reflects back on us at night, it is forever, and it is still.’