CURRENT EXHIBITION ~ WE CHANGE THE WORLD
6 MAY 2021 - 27 MARCH 2022 ~ NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA, MELBOURNE
‘We Change the World’ shares the work of prominent contemporary Australian and international artists and designers drawn from the NGV Collection, including works new to the Collection and on display for the first time. It considers issues such as the climate emergency, entrenched inequalities and humanitarian injustices, while also foregrounding the importance of identity, culture and expression to the wellbeing of communities and individuals.
“I like the armchair, it’s a proper Jangarra ngurra, the Jangarra could hide behind that one. It’s ok that someone might have that in their home as furniture, it’s an easy story they can understand, don’t you think?”
– Rita Minga, artist at Mangkaja Arts.
The Jangarra Armchair was designed by Rita Minga, Johnny Nargoodah, Trent Jansen, and Wes Maselli, and made by these artists as well as Gene Tighe, Elsie Dickens, Duane Shaw, Illiam Nargoodah, Mayarn Lawford, Eva Nargoodah and Yangkarni Penny K-Lyons. It has been created in two locations very far apart; Fitzroy Crossing in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, and the Wollongong region on the east coast of New South Wales.
According to Rita’s accounts, Jangarra is known colloquially as the ‘man killer’. A large, hairy man who carries a boomerang and a shield, Jangarra (or, ‘that Jangarra-bloke’) is known to crouch down and hide behind large rocks and anthills, observing his prey from this hidden position in the landscape. She recalls being told the story of Jangarra as a child by the old people at night, around the campfire: “They told us not to go close to the big mungku, the big anthills, because it was Jangarra ngurra, the home of that big man, Jangarra. As kids we’d go a long way hunting for a goanna, we’d dig under the small anthills but not the large ones, afraid of this man who might hurt us.” Rita is adamant that Jangarra is a real person, a real man.
A group of dedicated Mangkaja artists, including Johnny Nargoodah, Illiam Nargoodah, Gene Tighe, Eva Nargoodah and Elsie Dickens, along with Rita Minga and Trent Jansen, began to carve coolamon-like forms from locally felled Jartalu trees. The basic forms were given shape by Rita, Gene, Eva and Elsie, who hand-carved these organic objects using axes. The constant sound of axe-chipping was calming, yet over time become the soundtrack of hard work. The forms were further refined by Johnny, Illiam and Trent using an angle grinder fitted with a wood carving head. Wearing goggles and soon covered in wood chunks and dust they resembled creatures themselves.
Once the coolamons were formed, Johnny, Wes and Trent took them to the river, driving straight branches into the sand to generate an armature on which to position the coolamons as components of the chair. This armature allowed the Jangarra Armchair to be designed in three-dimensions and in real-time, placing the coolamons upside down and adjusting and rearranging them with the aim of generating an overall form that referenced both the anthill and the Jangarra ngurra.
Another important aspect of the Jangarra was the addition of traditional human hair string making. Myarn and Penny, the last two remaining people in Fitzroy Crossing who still have the skill to practice, teach and make human hair string in the traditional way. This is culturally significant to the Jangarra story given the now rare hair string creation skills and the subsequent reinvigoration of these skills for the project.
Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia,
6 May – 27 March 2022
Installation views of We Change the World at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne from 7 May – 19 September 2021. Image courtesy NGV.
Photography – Eugene Hyland and Bo Wong