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Kitty Kantilla

Jilamara  Wayayi  Jilamara 1997

“I will paint until the day I die”
Kitty Kantilla (Kutuwulumi Purawarrumpatu) (Tiwi c. 1928–2003)

Kitty Kantilla was one of Australia’s most remarkable Indigenous artists, celebrated for her innovation, unique style and mastery of a range of mediums.

The breadth and beauty of her work will be unveiled in the major retrospective exhibition Kitty Kantilla at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Kantilla produced an extraordinary body of work from the 1970s until her last days in 2003. In her hands the magic of Tiwi culture is translated into works of international significance.

Her earliest works were tutini (grave poles) and figures carved from ironwood using only a tomahawk, chisel and mallet, bark paintings and tunga (bark baskets). Instead of using the Tiwi painting comb (pwoja), Kantilla painted with a fine stick of coconut palm frond. Her paintings featured variable dots, each bearing the mark of her inimitable hand, earning her the nickname ‘Dot Dot’. When introduced to printmaking, Kantilla relinquished dots and colour for fragile lines and bands of delicate herringbone. She experimented with ochre on paper and painted large-scale canvases, moving from the black background preferred by many Tiwi artists, to experiment with expanses of colour and white ochre over a white background.

Seemingly abstract designs of Tiwi art refer to Pukumani and Kulama ceremonies and express the creativity of artists who use painting as a way of remembering.

Kantilla was born at Piripumawu and grew up at Yimpinari on Melville Island, 50 kilometres north of Darwin. As a young girl, Kantilla watched her father paint his special jilamara (design) on faces, bodies and objects and experienced Pukumani ceremonies. Kantilla went on to perform her own kinship songs and dances, carving and painting tutini and painting innovative designs on the bodies of close relatives to disguise them from mapurtiti (malevolent spirits of the deceased). She began to carve for the art market in 1977 when living at Paru, an important centre of art production on Melville Island. She settled at Milikapiti in 1989, just as Jilamara Arts & Craft Association (Jilamara) was being established. Here, with support from the art centre she produced most of her work and was known as the Queen of Jilamara.
Kitty Kantilla comprises of 78 works and a major exhibition catalogue has been produced to coincide with the retrospective. Kitty Kantilla has come to the Art Gallery of New South Wales from the National Gallery of Victoria.

Principal sponsor: BlueScope Steel

A national Gallery of Victoria Touring Exhibition

On view:7 December 2007 - 20 January 2008
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000
Telephone:(02) 9225 1744
(02) 9225 7400 Recorded information
1800 679 278 National toll-free
Hours:Open 7 days 10am until 5pm
Open until 9pm every Wednesday for Art After Hours
Media Information and Interviews:Susanne Briggs
(02) 9225 1791 or 0412 268 320

IMAGE CREDIT: Kutuwulumi Purawarrumpatu Kitty Kantilla, Tiwi c.1928-2003
Jilamara 1992, earth pigments on bark, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased from Admission Funds, 1992 ; Wayayi, 1995, earth pigments on wood, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of The Peter and Susan Rowland Endowment, Governor, 1995; Jilamara 1997, earth pigments on canvas, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased with the assistance of Mobil Oil Australia Limited, Fellow, 1998. All works © The artist's estate, courtesy of Jilamara Arts & Crafts