Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori

1924Bentinick Island, Australia | 2015Mornington Island, Australia

Aboriginal Australian painter and weaver.

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori was a respected senior Kaiadilt woman and contemporary artist whose short career left a significant cultural legacy. Her work responds to connection to family and the landscape of her homeland, mapping traditional cultural identity in large visceral paintings with loose gestural brush strokes and vivid colours. Her works are both abstract and representational, capturing various elements of her Country, such as the flow of the river, tidal ripples in the sand flats, rock walled fish traps and the topography of the island.

M. J. S. Gabori was born on Bentinick Island, in Queensland’s Gulf of Carpentaria. She was one of the last coastal Aboriginal people to be born beyond the Australian frontier and her early life was traditional, working with the sea to provide nourishment for her family. After a series of natural disasters on Bentinick Island in 1948, M. J. S. Gabori moved with her Kaiadilt family to Mornington Island where she lived a mostly traditional life. M. J. S. Gabori was one of four wives to Pat Gabori. Over her lifetime she gave birth to eleven children and was grandmother and great grandmother to many more.

On Mornington Island in 2005, at the age of 80, M. J. S. Gabori first picked up a paintbrush. Already an accomplished weaver and basket maker, the artist was waiting for a lift to collect some weaving materials at Mornington Island Arts and Craft when she started to paint to fill in the time. With no formal training S. Gabori began to paint regularly, each painting articulating stories and memories of her Country. Within seven months she had produced enough work to have her first solo exhibition at the Woolloongabba Art Gallery in Brisbane, which was a sell-out. Soon after M. J. S. Gabori’s paintings were being sought after by leading gallerists and collectors in Australia and world-wide.

In works such as the 3-metre-long Dibirdibi Country (2008), S. Gabori mixes wet paint on canvas to create tonal blocks of gestural colour that rhythmically drive the eye across the work. The painting typifies her artistic repertoire that mainly consisted of six subjects, all of them places on Bentinick Island to which she had strong personal ties: Mirdidingki, Didirdibi, Dingkari, Makarri, Thundi and Nyinyilki. Many of her paintings although named after place are also portraits of the people who belonged there such as her husband Kabararrjingathi Bulthuku Pat Gabori who was also called Dibirdibi. In the painting Dibirdibi Country (2008), M. J. S. Gabori may also be referring to her husband and the places he is associated with through cultural narrative. M. J. S. Gabori was also known to sing and laugh and recollect about the people and places she was painting and when reunited with her works in an art gallery she would sing to them, restating the cultural links between the paintings, place and people through the Kayardild language and song.

Her work is held in international collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Utrecht, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria Melbourne and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.

Emily Donehue

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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