Ngayartu Kujarra (Lake Dora), an immense warla (salt lake) of glittering whiteness in the East Pilbara, Western Australia, has a palpable presence in the Punmu community and looms large in the psyche of Martu people who were taken away from Punmu to Jigalong Mission, worked on pastoral stations during the 1960s and have relished the return to their homeland. This eccentricity of natural geography has inspired twelve Martu women artists of three generations to express viscerally their profound affection for the salt lake.
Ngayarta Kujarra is a performative and joyous collaboration that evolved over eight days in searing 47.9°C heat. On the first day, the women started singing, and senior custodian Rosie Williams made the first broad, white brushstroke – she was joined thereafter by the eleven other contributors. The artists painted for ten hours that day, singing for each of the waterholes surrounding Ngayartu Kujarra, later named along the stretching edges of the canvas. Day three included a stroll down to the lake and some of the waterholes, recording stories about pujiman – days of living nomadically and walking naked to these water sources. After this visit, the work materialised dramatically: the warla became textured, many different plant forms appeared along the lake’s edge and the rocky spurs protruding from the lake emerged. Painting continued for another four days before the finished canvas was taken to Lake Dora and laid out on its crystalline surface.On day eight, Nancy Chapman added a final coat of white to the evocation of the lake in the centre of the canvas, which had been sullied by dogs, spilt cups of tea and little kids.
This work’s consummate planar conception, like viewing Google Earth on a 5-metre screen, is astounding in its visual power and seamlessness. The work is a meditation on the phosphorescent salt lake that is central to the artists’ being.