Acclaimed Aboriginal artist celebrated

By Liz T. Williams 7 November 2013
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A new exhibition celebrates Aboriginal artist Yulyurlu ‘Lorna’ Fencer Napurrula whose work was unique.

Warning: this story contains the name and image of a deceased indigenous person.

 and flowing lines depicting the natural world earned Yulyurlu ‘Lorna’ Fencer Napurrula little respect from her own community – at least at first. But it was her willingness to experiment with style and form against all odds that captured the attention of the wider art world.

An exhibition of Lorna’s work, Yulyurlu: Lorna Fencer Napurrula, is now open at the Australian National University’s Drill Hall Gallery. Curated by Margie West, the show tells the story of how this dedicated Warlpiri woman pushed the boundaries of her community’s symbolic language and transformed it into something of her own.

Lorna did not start painting until she was in her 60s, when she took a course on the subject at the Lajamanu School’s Education Centre in 1986. This was near the beginning of the Warlpiri community’s involvement in the Western desert art movement, which facilitated many Aboriginal communities in successfully producing and selling art using media like canvas and acrylic.

launch gallery

Unique style of Aboriginal art

Lorna’s work quickly evolved from the more classic Warlpiri style of abstract symbols floating in a sea of dots to vivid depictions of her Dreaming that highlighted elements of the natural world. The unique style of her paintings drew the attention of art collectors and gallery curators, and she soon became an important figure at Mimi Arts and Craft, a community art centre in Katherine, NT.

“She was a bit of a character, Lorna,” Margie says. “She had very limited English, but she was never shy about engaging the visitors [to the art centre]… She was quite proud of her paintings.”

Margie says she hopes visitors to Yulyurlu will come away with a better appreciation of Lorna’s talent as an artist and her contribution to the Western desert art movement.

“She probably didn’t get the acclaim she deserved in her lifetime,” Margie says.

Lorna passed away in 2006, in her eighties, just shy of a decade after the first solo exhibition of her work.

The work of Yulyurlu Lorna Fencer Napurrula is being presented by Artback NT and Mimi Arts and Craft. It will be on display at the Drill Hall Gallery from 10 November – 18 December 2011 as part of a nationwide tour.