Seven Sisters Dreaming

 Justinna Napaljarri Sims ‘Yanjirlpirri or Napaljarri-Warnu Jukurrpa (Star or Seven Sisters Dreaming)

151x62cm acrylic on canvas €1854 (incl tax) click here for more information

 

An ancient story

The constellation of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, has been a potent symbol for artists, writers and storytellers for thousands of years.

The star cluster is mentioned in the Bible and the Koran and was important in Greek, Celtic and Norse mythology.  The seven brightest stars of the Pleiades have been the focus for stories, myths and rituals for many First Peoples and is an important dreaming story for Aboriginal peoples across Australia.  ‘Dreaming’ is an entirely inadequate term for incredibly complex systems of recording, holding and passing on cultural knowledge and laws encompassing every aspect of life from creation, ethics, morality, kinship, medicine, food, seasons and water, all mapped onto landscape, watercourses and sky. The complex kinship system and how it relates to animals, birds, landscape and skies determines which individuals and families are entitled to tell which particular Dreamings.

Counterweave currently has an example of the Seven Sisters Dreaming, by Warlukurlangu artist Justinna Napaljarri Sims.  Warlukurlangu artists depict the Pleaides as the Napaljarri -Warnu Jukurrpa or Seven Sisters Dreaming.

The sisters are seven women of the Napaljarri skin group and are often depicted in paintings of this Jukurrpa carrying the Jampijinpa man ‘wardilyka’ (the bush turkey) who is in love with the Napaljarri -warnu and who represents the Orion’s Belt cluster of stars.  Jukurra-jukurra, the morning star, is a Jakamarra man who is also in love with the seven  sisters and is often shown chasing them across the night sky.

In a final attempt to escape  the women turned themselves into fire and ascended to the heavens to become stars.

The custodians of the Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa are Japaljarri/Jungarrayi men and Napaljarri/Nungarrayi women. Some parts of the Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa are closely associated with men’s sacred ceremonies of a very secretive nature. Yanjirlpirri Jukurrpa (Star Dreaming) tells of the journey of Japaljarri and Jungarrayi men who travelled west to Lake Mackay on the Western Australian border. Along the way, they performed ‘ kurdiji’ (initiation ceremonies) for young men. Women also danced for the ‘kurdiji’.

The site depicted in this canvas is Yanjirlypiri (star) where there is a low hill and a water soakage.

The importance of this place cannot be overemphasized as young boys are brought hundreds of kilometres to be initiated, from as far as Pitjanjatjara country to the south and Lajamanu to the north. In contemporary Warlpiri paintings traditional iconography is used to represent the Jukurrpa, associated sites and other elements. Often depicted in paintings for this Jukurrpa is the female star Yantarlarang (Venus – the Evening Star) who chases the seven Napaljarri sisters for having stolen the night from her.

The artist

Justinna Napaljarri Sims was born in 1977 in the Alice Springs Hospital, the closest hospital to Yuendumu, a remote Aboriginal community 290 km north-west from Alice Springs and the location of the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation. She went to school at Yirrara college in Alice Springs, but returned to the community in 1999 where she has lived permanently ever since. She is married to Gordon Jangala Robertson and has two daughters, Vicky and Chantal. Apart from being a mother and painter, Justinna also works part time in a local store in Yuendumu.

Justinna is the grand-daughter of Paddy Japaljarri Sims (dec), one of the founding artists of Warlukurlangu. She has been painting with Warlukurlangu since 1999, however it wasn’t until 2010 that she has had time to paint consistently. She paints many of her grandfather’s Jukurrpa stories, Dreamings, which include Ngarlkirdi Jukurrpa (Witchetty Grub Dreaming) and Yanjirlpirri Jukurrpa (Star Dreaming), Dreamings which relate directly to her land, its features and animals.

Further reading

Deepening Histories of Place, edited by Mary Anne Jebb and Ann McGrath, Australian National Universality Press 2015 downloadable here http://press.anu.edu.au/publications/aboriginal-history-monographs/long-history-deep-time

The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture general editors Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neal, Cultural Editor Robyne Bancroft OUP 2008

Friday Essay: land, kinship and ownership of ‘Dreamings’ March 17, 2016, Christine Nicholls, Senior Lecturer in Australian Studies, Flinders University, https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-land-kinship-and-ownership-of-dreamings-39637

 

strong in culture

Counterweave Arts is more than selling Aboriginal art – we believe sharing aspects of Aboriginal culture is a fundamental part of being an ethical fair trade business. Aboriginal artists choose to share stories and knowledge through their paintings: these artworks are not just beautiful objects, they share some of the intricate cosmology, social structures, botany, medicine and spirituality that runs through every aspect of life. They are full of significance and meaning.

Agnes Nampijinpa Brown Ngapa Jukurrpa (Water Dreaming) – Puyurru

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived in what we now call Australia for at least 60,000 years. Aboriginal culture is the longest continuing culture in the world and it continues to live and grow,  handed down through the generations through ceremony, lore, song, art and language. For Aboriginal people culture and connection to country are fundamental to identity: being strong in culture means knowing who you are, where you fit, where you belong. And language is key to this. More than 250 Indigenous Australian language groups were spoken at the time of colonisation in the late 18th-century. Around 120 are still spoken today but there is a great deal of work happening around the country to revive, preserve, and strengthen language. More information is available at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies https://aiatsis.gov.au/

Currently Counterweave stocks artworks from Artists of Ampilatwatja and Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation. These are communities in the very centre of Australia – about 300 kilometres east (Ampilatwatja) and west (Warlukurlangu) of Alice Springs and for many of the artists English may be their fourth or fifth language.

Margaret Kemarre Ross of Artists of Ampilatwatja

Maria Nampijinpa Brown of Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation

In other parts of Australia English is the dominant language and Aboriginal languages have disappeared or are spoken by very few people. This is especially true in the south east of Australia where colonisation almost wiped out the local Aboriginal peoples, in spite of a strong resistance. Gunai/Kurnai country is not far from our home city of Melbourne: local elders have been working hard to revive and share the Gunai/Kurnai language and in doing so, preserve and hand on the unique Gunai/Kurnai culture.

‘Language isn’t just about speaking, it’s your whole way of life,’ explained Lynnette Solomon-Dent. ‘It tells you what’s in the country, what the stories are, what your obligations are to each other.’ Unpack a single word and you can start to understand a system of kin relations and cultural obligations that are still alive and well. The word for ‘mother’ doubles as the word used for Lynnette’s sisters. If anything happened to Lynnette, her sisters would automatically become mothers to her children. It’s all there in the language.

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  • note that we use the term “Aboriginal people” to include Torres Strait Islander people. This is not meant disrespectfully but to avoid repetition. For brevity and readability we use the term, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” at the beginning of a written piece, and “Aboriginal people” thereafter.