New Works


Bugai Whyoulter at Tarnanthi, Art Gallery of South Australia

A friend messaged me after seeing Bugai’s show at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) and said “surely god must live there.”  I think she may have been right.  These paintings were first made in August 2021 out in the Kunawarratji art shed. As they sat laid out on the floor we all knew that magic had just been created. The diminutive Bugai sat in the middle of her paintings looking around smiling. A gentle nodding satisfaction of work completed.  2 years later those same works now grace the walls at AGSA. Transporting us once more back to Bugai’s country, Wantili.  A place she walked with her family as a little girl.

Bugai, now in her early 80’s, has been painting for the past 15 years. A master of colour, composition and energetic expression, these works signal a new chapter in her practice.  She has painted Wantili hundreds of times before but these works ask us to not only know Wantili but to feel it, to bring reverence.  There is spaciousness in these paintings, like wind running over the landscape, she is breathing life back into country.    

Her tiny stature defies the incredible creative energy and stamina that it takes to complete such a big body of work.   Watching Bugai paint is like watching a moving meditation, a trance like state overcomes her.  Only glancing up when a noise jolts her from her practice or when she runs out of room to paint and it is time to shift her body to focus on a new section.  With deep focus everything around her drops away and she is back at Wantili. 

Sitting with his mum in front of her paintings for an artist talk as part of the Tarnanthi festival, Lawrence generously translates her stories of growing up.  Her enthusiasm for sharing couldn’t be contained.  The packed gallery listen intently and just as Lawrence is about to start translating Bugai picks up the mic for one more story.  Her ferocity to paint is in equal parts seen in her desire to tell the stories of her life and the places that make up that life.  Lawrence giggles a little and hands the mic back to his mum to continue talking.  Bugai is animated, a smile creeps across her face and her eyes sparkle as she talks about family, about country, her spirit visibly lifts. 

The calling song of ‘Bugai wonderland’ sings out around the Martumili office as new paintings arrive from the Kunawarratji art shed.  And just for a moment we are all there with her, in her Bugai wonderland traversing the desert to Wantili.

Tarnanthi is a Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art held in Adelaide, South Australia, annually. Presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia.

On now until Jan 21st 2024.

Words by Zoe Martyn.

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Martumili Artists warns visitors that our website includes images and artworks of Artists who have passed away which may cause distress to some Indigenous people.

Martumili Artists acknowledges the Nyiyaparli and Martu people as the Traditional Owners of the land we live and work on. We also acknowledge the Traditional Owners throughout our country and our Elders; past, present and emerging.