Ode to Pilbara 

Untitled artworks in Tracks We Share by Illyampi Victor Burton (bottom) and Doreen Chapman (top) from Spinifex Hill Studio.

IT WAS three years in the making and features more than 70 artists, 200 artworks – welcome to the highly ambitious Tracks We Share: Contemporary Art of the Pilbara.

Taking the audience on an artistic odyssey from the Pilbara coastline, inland through the towns and the pastoral leases and on into the desert, the WA Art Gallery exhibition leaves no stone unturned.

The region is best known for its stunning acrylic paintings, but exhibition lead curator Andrew Nicholls says people will be impressed by the diverse artworks on show including video installations and ceremonial artefacts.

“…compared to other remote parts of Australia the subject matter and the stylistic diversity of what’s been made in the Pilbara at the moment is probably going to be quite surprising for audiences who are unfamiliar with it,” he says.

This is most evident in works from the region’s newest art centre, Juluawarlu Art Group, formed in 2016.

“Out of all of the artists in the show, those representing Juluwarlu are probably the ones who are least known in Perth,” Nicholls says.

“They’re a comparatively young art centre, but I think they’re also one of the most adventurous in terms of the different mediums that the artists explore, which is really exciting for audiences who may not yet be familiar with them.

“Their works include ceremonial artefacts, paintings, works on paper, carved and etched boards, and they’ve got a really spectacular video installation, so I’m sure viewers will find their contribution really dynamic.”

Juluwarlu Art Group member Barngyi (Pansy) Cheedy says their art is all about sharing stories.

“Different areas have different vibes about their artwork,” she says.

“So I’m from this area [Yindjibarndi Country], I paint different to someone from maybe the Western Desert. 

“Coming together and putting all these artworks together is bringing us together and sharing the knowledge. You can yarn about the story in your artworks. So for a place like the Pilbara, art is very vital, where everyone is there to share their stories. For that’s what art is. Sharing your stories through your artwork.” 

The exhibition also includes iconic artists from the region like Yindjibarndi elder Aileen Sandy, whose work has won landscape awards and been acquired by the WA Art Gallery.

The exhibition website tracksweshare.com.au is a research project in itself; a fascinating archive of the region with in-depth profiles of Pilbara artists including Martumili woman Jakayu Biljabu. 

One of the last Martu to leave the desert, she worked as a baker at the Jigalong Mission and then several other stations before moving to the newly Aboriginal- owned Strelley Station for a time. 

In 1982, during the Return to Country movement, she relocated with her family to Punmu Aboriginal Community, where she continues to live today with her children and grandchildren.

Nicholls is also curatorial lead at the non-profit art organisation FORM, which helped organise the exhibition and for the past 20 years has been working with artists in the Pilbara, some 1000km north of Perth.

“This is the first time that an exhibition has brought so many different artists from the region together to tell a story about the Pilbara as a whole, and certainly Perth audiences will never have seen this much Pilbara art in one place before, or had the opportunity to appreciate the scale and diversity of the region’s art scene,” he says.

Tracks We Share: Contemporary Art of the Pilbara is at the WA Art Gallery until August 28.

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