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Remain in Light: Photography from the MCA Collections

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Marie McMahon

You are on Aboriginal land 1984

Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of Professor Terry Smith, 2007

colour photo screenprint

H 64.5 W 45cm
H 65.5 W 45.8cm
H 68.5 W 48.7cm

About the Artwork

The first version of this screen-print was a limited edition of 30 copies, hand-printed by the artist in 1981 at Redback Graphix, then based in Wollongong. It carried the text ‘PAY THE RENTYOU ARE ON ABORIGINAL LAND’, a slogan borrowed from a bumper sticker seen by the artist while in Townsville, North Queensland. It had oblique black lines over yellow and red vertical stripes on both sides of the pictorial image. The second edition of ‘PAY THE RENT’ was 150 copies, large hand-printed by the artist in 1982 at the Tin Sheds (Art Workshop, University of Sydney). The third edition was a coMcMahon ercial run of 1,000 copies, printed in 1984 at Snap Ads, a coMcMahon ercial screen-printing business in Sydney. The 3rd edition carried a banner ‘You Are On Aboriginal Land’ and a line ’Poster production in support of Mimi Aboriginal Arts and Crafts, Katherine NT’.

Later editions of approximately 1,000 copies each were printed and distributed by Redback Graphix (which had moved to Annandale, Sydney in 1985). The fourth edition (1987) and fifth edition (1988) both bear a Redback Graphix logo and an artist credit. The words 'Pay The Rent’ were deleted from the third edition because my impression was that the slogan didn’t mean much to the people I’d had in mind when I created the work. The first two editions could be best described as artist’s prints with words, whereas the third edition had been shaped into the more conventional form of a political poster.

The people I’d had in mind still spoke their own language. Some spoke 'Creole’ and some spoke English, but there were still many among them who spoke only their tribal language. The slogan didn’t reflect their world view while the statement ‘You Are On Aboriginal Land’ was a matter of fact.

The figure of a woman was taken from a black-and-white photograph of a group of Tiwi on a beach at Cape Fourcroy, on the south west coast of Bathurst Island (one of the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin and part of the Northern Territory). The photograph, by the artist, was taken on a camping trip in 1980. The woman standing with hand on hip was Phillipa Pupangamirri, the mother of Gordon Pupangamirri, who worked at Tiwi Pima Art at Nguiu. The hunting party also included, among others, Piparo (Winnie Munkara), Geraldine Tungatalum, Inez Kerinaiua, John Baptist Pupangamirri, and his daughter Annunciata.

Tikilaru is the name of the country where the photograph was taken and where the idea for the poster was conceived. Piparo (Winnie Munkara) was a custodian of Tikilaru and lived with a group of men and women in a bush camp at Cape Fourcroy. The group lived a relatively traditional life – notwithstanding hunting rifles, tea, sugar, flour and vehicles – they hunted for bush tucker and conducted and performed ceremonies. During a bush trip in 1980 to Tikilaru, our party encountered a Toyota four wheel drive on a narrow bush track. In the car were two businessmen from Darwin who had been driving through Tikilaru with a view to developing a tourist resort near a beach. Our vehicles came head-to-head on the narrow bush track and Winnie confronted the Darwin businessmen in theatrical Tiwi style, with dramatic stick waving and cracking on the ground and shouting “Tikilaru is not your country”.

That event remained in my mind as a demonstration of land ownership from an Aboriginal perspective. The experience of being on Aboriginal land, in Tikilaru country, also gave me a greater understanding of the significance of landscape, and of Australian landscape. There is a large lake at Mungutuwu at Cape Fourcroy that in 1980 was still avoided because it was a sacred site. Lake Mungutuwu is a resting place for Ampiji, the Rainbow Serpent.

In a quintessentially Australian scene, the woman in the poster, based on the image of Phillipa and the memory of Piparo, stands on a beach, where land, sea and sky intersect. As another Tiwi, Valerian Munkara remarked, the poster image ‘gives me memories, it reminds us of our mothers’.

Marie McMahon

– About the artist

b.1953

Marie McMahon is a Sydney artist whose work has touched on social, political and environmental subjects. She has lived in the Northern Territory and a number of her exhibitions were concerned with the natural environment, specific sites, flora, social significance, cultural history and environmental effects. More recently she has exhibited works about Cambodia.

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