• Dibirdibi country, 2008. (National Gallery of Victoria)Source: National Gallery of Victoria
The works of Kaiadilt artist Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori will feature in a new exhibition this year. NITV revisits the remarkable story of an artist who began painting at 80, and reached international acclaim by 90.
Ella Archibald-Binge

19 Apr 2016 - 7:21 PM  UPDATED 19 Apr 2016 - 7:30 PM

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori first picked up a paint brush when she was 80 during an occupational therapy session.

In the decade that followed, her paintings would capture international attention.

Art collector Patrick Corrigan recalls seeing the works for the first time.

Photos: The work of Sally Gabori
National Gallery of Victoria to premiere the work of the late Australian artist Sally Gabori in its Spring/Summer 2016 program.

"I was blown away that an elderly lady with a few brushes could come up with these stunning pieces," he told SBS in April last year.

Gabori passed away in February 2015, but today her art hangs in galleries around Australia and the world. On Tuesday, the National Gallery of Victoria announced plans to feature a retrospective exhibition of the senior Kaiadilt woman's work as part of its spring/summer 2016 program. The collection will also feature at the Queensland Art Gallery. 

The exhibition will include 30 works spanning Gabori's short but successful career, from early small-scale canvasses to large collaborative projects. Much of the artist's work draws from her experience living in far north Queensland. 

A traditional Kayardild speaker with little knowledge of English, Gabori  was born and raised on Bentinck Island in Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria before missionaries moved her people to Mornington Island in the 1940s.

Linguist Nick Evans is a long-term scholar of the Kayardild language, who came to know Gabori during his studies of Bentinck Island. 

"Before you paint anything you have to see the world differently to someone else, and the way to understand who Sally is as an artist is to see her having 75 years of learning how to see, and then a few years of learning how to put what she has seen onto a canvas," Mr Evans told NITV in 2011. 

"It’s really important to have these different ways of seeing the country we live in."

Melbourne's Alcaston Gallery was one of the first to display Gabori's paintings.

Gallery director Beverley Knight describes the acclaimed artist's process: "It just comes out of her mind, and it flows from her fingers."

At the time of Gabori's exhibition at Alcaston Gallery in 2011, Ms Knight told NITV it took some time for staff to understand the significance of the paintings.

"As a non-Indigenous person, having a different art background, you can think on first sight of Sally’s paintings that they’re abstracts," she said.

"When her grandchildren… came into the gallery they ran around so excited. They knew every spot on the painting, they called it something. So all of a sudden, all the staff at Alcaston gallery thought 'my goodness these are landscapes and seascapes, this is her country'." 

In the same year, Gabori's daughter Elsie spoke to NITV about the simple motivation behind her mother's internationally-acclaimed artwork.

"She enjoys painting. She doesn't like staying home, she wants to come up all the time and paint."

The exhibition 'Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori Dulka Warngiid – Land of All' is showing at the Queensland Art Gallery from 21 May 2016 - 28 Auguest 2016. The works will be on show at the National Gallery of Victoria from 23 September 2016 - 29 January 2017.