MANGKAJA ARTS RESOURCE AGENCY AND FREMANTLE ARTS CENTRE ~ 2017
“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.
Early in my first visit, sitting with the women carving ngurti (coolamon) from softwood, I came away with a list of mysterious humanoids, together with vague outlines of their appearances and how they might behave, should you encounter one. I particularly bonded with Rita Minga – an older woman with a great deal of knowledge from the Jaru, Kukaja and Walmajarri language groups. Rita recalls “I’ve worked with other artists, but Trent was the first kartiya (whitefella) artist. He was really interested in those stories”. It was her drawing of Jangarra that was the germ of the Jangarra Armchair.
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.
With my particular interest in creature
mythologies and the starting point of Rita’s description of the Jangarra, I proposed that we co-author an interpretation of this creature and translate it into an object. As part of this exchange, Rita drew her interpretation of the Jangarra hiding behind an anthill. Then I drew my interpretation of her sketch, translating her drawing into an armchair. Based on these initial sketches, it was decided that coolomon wood, and forms that referenced the coolomons made in the Kimberley region could make up the componentry of this design.
A group of dedicated Mangkaja artists, including Johnny Nargoodah, Illiam Nargoodah, Gene Tighe, Eva Nargoodah and Elsie Dickens, along with Rita and I, began to carve these 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 I using an angle grinder fitted with a wood carving head. Wearing goggles and soon covered in wood chunks and dust we resembled creatures ourselves.
Once the coolamons were formed, Johnny, Wes and I 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.
Words by Wes Maselli, Trent Jansen and Rita Minga.
Curator – Erin Coates
Production – Fitzroy Crossing and Illawarra, Australia
Makers – Rita Minga, Johnny Nargoodah, Gene Tighe, Elsie Dickens, Duane Shaw, Illiam Nargoodah, Mayarn Lawford, Eva Nargoodah, Yangkarni Penny K-Lyons and Trent Jansen Studio
Materials – Jartalu wood, gum branches and human hair
Limited edition of 3, 3 remaining