Christine Multa’s talent was acknowledged when she won the Desart Artworker Photography Prize 2013 with her photograph My Grandmother Went Hunting, taken in September 2013. The photo depicts internationally renowned artist Eunice Napanangka Jack looking for the ideal wood to make a nulla nulla, a digging stick for women. It captures a powerful moment of intimacy between Eunice and Christine.
The bush landscape shown here is situated 230 km west of Alice Springs, at Haasts Bluff or Ikuntji. This picturesque part of Australia is located in the Western Desert and is surrounded by the West MacDonnell Ranges. Contrary to the romanticised stereotype of the desert, Christine’s photograph presents an image without the postcard clichés of red soil or endless blue skies. Rather, pale soft colours make up the palette of her composition. It is almost painterly with the abstract qualities of the trees and branches creating a lattice that envelopes Eunice. The “golden mean”composition shows Eunice positioned slightly offcentre to add to this painterly effect, as does having all the colours concentrated on the figure. In this work Christine shows a very different desert landscape to that known and popularised in mainstream representations. It shows us a place full of resources, in this case full of nulla nulla wood.
The viewer takes Christine’s place in the photograph – entering Country, walking behind Eunice through the trees, being drawn into the experience. Eunice’s walk is captured in the photo, showing the sway that characterises her movements as she swiftly makes her way through the trees, and you can imagine her singing as she makes her way through. The photo captures this moment of being on Country, feeling part of it, knowing it intimately and feeling at home in this remote part of the world. This is an intimate experience, a rare glimpse into the everyday life of Luritja people from the Western Desert region. It shows the significance of a journey into the bush where your life depends on someone with a knowledge handed down for generations.
This photograph is part of a series, all taken on the same day, documenting the process of sourcing the wood and discerning its quality and hardness. An axe is used to chop the wood and to produce the final nulla nulla. This process involves peeling the bark, smoothing the surface and sharpening its tips. Women of all ages engage in the physical and cultural process of sourcing, collecting and chopping the wood. Even Eunice in her late 70s plays an important role in chopping the wood, carrying it and making decisions about the selection. Her knowledge is important in this process and through experiential learning she teaches younger women about Country, culture and toolmaking.
On this day Christine was not engaged in the process, but unlike non-Indigenous photographers who in the past have entered communities to document cultural practice she is intimately familiar with the practices she is documenting. Christine says of this photographic series: “I am not an artist, I am an artworker and I like to take photos at bush trips for everyone to remember.” She is interested in the passing down of knowledge and recording this process for future generations. This desire is strongly influenced by her acute awareness that there are only three old ladies still alive in the Haasts Bluff community. She remembers the Ikuntji Art Centre being established in 1992 by artist Marina Strocchi with the help of Christine’s grandmother, the late Narputta Nangala. Strocchi originally visited Haasts Bluff for just a few weeks in order to run artistic workshops with community members. After many requests by members of the local community Marina returned to establish and manage Ikuntji Artists. The beginnings of the art movement in Haasts Bluff focused on T-shirt printing and works on paper. Nowadays, Christine’s mother, Cynthia Napaltjarri Multa, is also a painter at Ikuntji Artists.
Christine began working as an artworker at Ikuntji Artists in April 2013. Since then she has participated in a range of workshops (in particular with photographer Steve Pearce as organised through the Desart Artworker Program) and on-the-job training with a focus on photography and arts administration, in particular cataloguing artworks and recording the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) stories. These training opportunities have enabled her to gain new skills and develop her practice as a photographer.
- ^ See Marina Strocchi (ed.), Ikuntji – Paintings from Haasts Bluff 1992–See Marina Strocchi (ed.), Ikuntji – Paintings from Haasts Bluff 1992
Chrischona Schmidt is an art historian and manager at Ikuntji Arts.