For any artist that first international exhibition of your work is a major milestone, for an Indigenous artist aged 105 it’s of particular significance.
Nyikina artist Loongkoonan’s success in Australia, and now abroad, is made even more remarkable by the fact she did not begin her career until she was in her mid-nineties.
Now a retrospective of her work is on display at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC until the end of April, it will then move to the University of Virginia’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection in Charlottesville.
“Loongkoonan’s work challenges expectations about what some international collectors expect of Aboriginal art- dot and ochres,” Aboriginal-art dealer Mary Durack told The New York Times.
Already well regarded in Australia with exhibitions at numerous galleries, and at Australia’s Old Parliament House, Loongkoonan said that in her art she tries to show the places and people of the Nyikina home country in the West Kimberly ranges of Western Australia.
“Footwalking is the only proper way to learn about country, and remember it. That is how I got to know all of the bush tucker and medicine. Nowadays, I show young people how to live off the country, and how to gather spinifex wax, which is our traditional glue for fixing stone points to spear shafts, patching coolamons, and making all kinds of things,” she said in an artist statement for Mossenson Indigenous galleries.
Loongkoonan said her experiences of Nyikina country filled her art, and that she still enjoyed a strong connection to the people and place of her home country and her work is all about translating what she sees there to the canvas.
“I paint Nyikina country the same way eagles see country when they are high up in the sky,” she said.
“Today I am a single woman, and I like to travel about looking at country and visiting countrymen. I still enjoy footwalking my country, showing the young people to chase barni (goannas) and catch fish. In my paintings I show all types of bush tucker – good tucker, that we lived off in the bush."
Despite coming to art late in life, Loongkoonan displayed rare skill and confidence in her works according to collectors, having produced 380 in the first five years which has been widely acclaimed for its unique perspective and boldly different take on Indigenous art.
“That Loongkoonan’s work doesn’t comply with this, is what makes her works so special. She is completely original,” said Mary Durack.