About this artwork
Myrtle Pennington is a senior custodian for Murpulya and Kanpa two sites on the South Australian side of the Great Victorian Desert. She was living a traditional nomadic life in this area when the Emu Fields and Maralinga nuclear testing was carried out by the British and Australian governments, in a tract of territory supposedly unoccupied. Myrtle was one of many Spinifex families abruptly catapulted into the 21st century. This was a time of massive upheaval and tragedy. The walk west away from the blast area and fallout cost Myrtle dearly, losing some of her immediate family to the poison. Before this, Myrtle was part of a continuum, a culture passed down over countless generations. She was taught how to read the country and the secrets it holds from a child. She learned the signs and symbols repeated across space and time. To the unknown eye these are abstract shapes but to the initiated, symbols of everyday life, a visual communication that still holds meaning. The circle a focal point as it represents a place of water, often joined by a web of lines as people and animals interact with the life-giving source.
About Myrtle Pennington
The Spinifex People inhabited the Great Victoria Desert long before Europeans landed on this continent’s shoreline. They survived in an arid but beautiful environment, equipped with the necessary skills required for such a life. A spiritual people guided by cultural law were able to exist virtually unchallenged and unchanged until the 1950’s when the British atomic testing began at Emu Fields and later at Maralinga. These tests directly displaced the Spinifex People and it would be over thirty years before their traditional lands were finally returned to them in the form of native title and they were able to once again access the country that formed them from birth. For the landscape holds the culture of the Spinifex People and their daily interactions are governed by the moral compass of the first beings who created the physical realm. With story interwoven in song and dance, the country maps a tangible way forward for the people to reflect and learn upon. It is this country, this spiritual landscape that defines and permeates Myrtle Pennington’s work. Although abstract in appearance each piece holds part history, part ceremony and part country. Myrtle assumes the vastness of the landscape imbued with the colourful light in profound yet simple compositions. She recalls the places that sustained her during those early formative years and gives rise to the sites of Mulpulya and Kanpa, surrounding them with sandhills and salt lakes or plains that lead to rocky escarpments. She reads the scene from a sense of belonging, of being interwoven into the fabric of the landscape she creates. All this Myrtle captures and conveys with ease, moving the brush and colour freely, building a textural quality that prompts one to walk with her through this vast Country.