LANGUAGE GROUP: Warlpiri/Luritja
COMMUNITY: Papunya, NT
Michael Jagamara (also spelt Jagamarra or Tjakamarra) was born circa 1946-49 at Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs) west of Yuendemu, in Central Australia. he was taught sand paintings, body paintings and shield paintings by his grandfather when he was a boy. His country, near Vaughan Springs, lies at the intersection of several major Dreaming paths and, thus, his paintings depict these many sacred sites He is the custodian of many Dreaming stories and believes it is his responsibility to preserve, in paint and print, the stories which can assist the teaching of others about his tradition and culture. Michael is a Warlpiri and Luritja speaker.
Acclaimed as an outstanding artist who has a unique ability to articulate the meaning of his work, Michael Nelson has been instrumental in communicating the significance of Aboriginal culture and art to the world and views it as a political tool to gain more leverage for Aboriginal land rights and self-determination. To Michael, art, religion and politics cannot be separated. He believes that greater political recognition, established through Aboriginal Art will also create more room for spiritual expression and a deeper understanding of Aboriginal beliefs.
The father of six girls and one boy, Michael Nelson Jagamara is a family orientated man. "When I paint I always have my children around me. I talk to them and tell them stories about our country. We often sit around the camp fire, telling stories. I want to pass on my culture. I'm proud of my work."
"Acrylic paintings really represent Aboriginal recognition of their place in Australian society. Aboriginal art is best though, in my mind, as a wedge into the dominant world-view of European society."
He began painting in 1981 at Papunya where he still lives today with his wife Marjorie. There he observed the work of older artists and by 1983 he had began to paint regularly. He paints Possum, Snake, Two Kangaroos, Flying Ant and Yam Dreamings from the area around Pikilyi as well as lightning, rain, shields and sacred sites. He paints several Dreaming stories on a single work: "I thought to myself - I'll do different way to them mob instead of copying them. Do my own way".
Michael Nelson always plans a painting in his mind. By contemplating the relationship between conceptual design and the body of knowledge that it relates to, he forms a holistic integration which represents Aboriginal people through time, space and the land itself.
"Aboriginal Art is different to Non-Aboriginal Art. They make it up in their imagination but ours are not just pretty pictures. Our stories are given to us to carry and pass on to our children. Non-Aboriginal people have to be prepared, when they see our paintings, to learn something about Aboriginal culture."
In 1993 Michael received an Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his vital contribution to Aboriginal Art. In 2001 Michael was a finalist in the 18th Telstra NATSIAA. Commissions include a painting in the Sydney Opera House 1987 and a mosaic in the forecourt at Parliament House, Canberra, 1988.
He visited the USA with Billy Stockman in 1988 for the opening of the "Dreamings: Art of Aboriginal Australia" exhibition in New York. In 1989 he had his first solo exhibition, followed by shows in 1990 and 1993.
In 1992 BMW approached Michael as well as several other prominent Australian Artists such as Ken Done, to paint a BMW car in his traditional design. The car supplied was the car that won the Shell Ultra Australian Touring Championship in 1987. The car is not in a private art collection.
In 1998 his painting career took a remarkable turn with the production of modernist works belonging to the New Expressions series. After painting for a number of years in a controlled style with layers of dots, bands and circles with a subdued colour range, his new works broke out in an explosion of bright colours and energetic gestures.
He is the subject of a major publication by Vivian Johnson (Michael Jagamara Nelson, 1997). More recently Michael's work was shown in 'Mythology and Reality: Contemporary Aboriginal Desert Art from the Gabrielle Pizzi Collection', 2001-2004, which toured Palazzo Bricherasio Turin, Italy; AAM Utrecht, Netherlands, Prato Centre, Italy; Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts, Israel; SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney; Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne.