Distinguished guests at the exhibition launch included artists Patrick Mung Mung and Betty Carrington, Sister Rosemary Crumlin RSM OAM – who first recognised the great beauty and cultural significance of the art, Josephite Sisters Annette Arnold and Theresa Morellini, and Director Indigenous Associate Professor Nerida Blair. Director of the Centre of Indigenous Education and Research Nereda White also launched Sister Mary Cresp RSJ’s book God’s Good Times. Associate Vice-Chancellor Professor Marea Nicholson hosted the event.
The exhibition is a rare collection of art from the Warmun community in the East Kimberley, featuring precious works from some of Australia’s best-known Indigenous artists. George Mung Mung’s famous Mary of Warmun woodcarving was the star attraction of the exhibition, titled Gifts of the Artists.
The works included spectacular paintings and landscapes, as well as striking sculptures and digging sticks. It was a very significant collection of early Warmun art highlighting the crossover between the cultural folklore of the Gija people and Catholic teachings, which they have melded into their own unique spiritual tradition.
The works track the history of the involvement of the Josephites at Warmun over the last 40 years. Many of these paintings and artifacts have never been seen outside Mirrilingki, the Retreat Centre at Warmun. Most were gifts to the Sisters of St Joseph, who live in the community, and some are pieces the Sisters have purchased. The collection was brought to Sydney for safe storage and conservation and is being presented for first time.
Mrs Bryce spoke warmly of the relationship forged between the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Gija community and how this was reflected in the art.
“This stunning exhibition of Warmun community art will surely please all viewers. Here are works by some of Australia’s leading Indigenous artists – paintings whose natural earth colours and minimalist lines evoke the spare, handsome country of the Kimberley artifacts that reflect traditional ways carvings inspired by deep spiritualism. Many of these precious works are significant for their ‘two way’ motifs and symbolism representing a meeting of Christian and dreamtime cultures. The story of this confluence is an inspiring one.”
In launching God’s Good Times, about the role the Sisters of Saint Joseph have played in the Warmun community and the relationship forged between the two groups, Professor White said the book was beautifully written and contained many of the stories of the Sisters.
“It gives historical accounts of the early experiences in setting up schools and working in harsh conditions with limited resources. But shining through is a love story. The journey of love that the Sisters of St Joseph have taken with Aboriginal people. It is full of honesty. There are no excuses made for the lack of understanding and for the breaches of cultural protocols, but it is also a story of learning from one another.
Copies of these speeches are available: