Lily Karedada is a prolific and well-established Wandjina painter from the township of Kalumburu, on the northwest tip of Western Australia. This remote part of the Kimberley is sometimes referred to as ‘Wandjina Country’. The enigmatic Wandjina figures, painted and maintained for generations in the surrounding caves and rock galleries, have become emblematic of Dreamtime mystery. The much older but unrelated Bradshaw figures are also found in this area, as is the powerful Rainbow Serpent. For the local tribes, the Wandjina ancestor spirits were the pivot of their natural and cultural world. Each clan group traces its decent from a distinct cave area. Lily was born near the Prince Regent River and her bush name, Mindindil, means 'bubbles'. This name refers to the time when her father saw bubbles emerging in the freshwater spring and announced to his wife, “Ah, what this one here, he comes out bubble? Ah! Might be kid.”
Many aeons ago (during the Dreamtime), after their creative acts were done, the Wandjina lay down in the caves, leaving their life giving essence in the cave paintings as they returned to their home in the clouds. They are known as rainmakers and bring fertility to the land. They are usually shown either in groups or surrounded by associated totemic species. Always depicted frontally, their large eyes dominate in a mouthless face, sometimes on top of a simple robe-like body, with no apparent limbs or feet. Radiating lines around the eyes or in a halo around the head represent the lightning that heralds the storm. The first lightning strike renders their mouths tightly closed. If their mouths were left open, we are told, it would rain incessantly, carrying everything away in an absolute torrent. Wandjina float vertically on the rock surface or may be shown lying down. They are precious ancient icons, and their contemporary re-representation has allowed for their preservation and the survival of a unique culture.
The earliest copying of these images from rock to bark was at the request of early missionaries and explorers during the 1930s, after the Benedictine mission was established. The missionaries displaced Lily’s Wanambal people from their traditional lands. Their way of life, including the regular re-touching of the rock images and conveying of stories by tribal elders was forbidden. Lily still recalls how the hard work routines of their early mission life took all their time and energy. These days Kalumburu is Aboriginal-run and income is largely derived from art and craft production. The Karedada family have long been recognised as leaders in the Wandjina tradition.
When Kimberley art first found its way to the market during the 1970s under the guidance Mary Macha, Lily and her husband Jack Karedada participated in the first exhibition in Perth. Bringing this unique tradition to public attention ensured its survival. The assimilation of sacred elements into the secular did not detract from its numinous character, or its ability to mesmerise an audience. Lily’s refined style, full of subtle variations in tone, her figures outlined and with the distinctive pointy shoulders of her particular cave area, often emerge from a veil of rain-like dots. They are accompanied by animal spirits, beautifully captured in uncluttered character. Lily’s totems are the turkey, possum and white cockatoo. She belongs to the Jirrengar owlet moiety and the Wandjina hold a special affinity with the owl. A sympathetic Wandjina spirit rescued the legendary owl, Dumbi, from a group of playful children who were pulling out its feathers. Though the Wandjina returned to the clouds, a close association remained between the two.
Lily collects pigments and other natural art materials from the bush as well as using modern ones. She has incorporated the imagery of techniques such as mouth spray and hand stencil. Unlike most other contemporary Aboriginal art forms, historical precedents have determined the artistic features of this tradition, though an element of experimentation has always been present. Art and artefact production was a response to social change and dislocation from traditional culture and lands. Its continual evolution sustains the small community and provides guidance and inspiration to new generations.
Profile author: Sophie Baka
Aboriginal Art Museum, The Netherlands
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.
Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia.
Christensen Collection, held Museum of Victoria, Melbourne.
Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide.
Museum de Lyon, France.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.
The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, U.S.A.
2010 - Lily Karadeda, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne.
2000 - Lily Karadeda, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne.
2010 - Passing on tradition - new and old Kimberley, featuring Gordon Barney, Paddy Bedford, Jack Britten, Charlene Carrington, Tommy Carroll, Billy Duncan, Hector Jandanay, Lily Karedada, Rosie Karedada, Queenie McKenzie, Jock Mosquito, Beerbee Mungnari, Mark Nodea *, Nancy Nodea, Nancy Noonju, Peggy Patrick, Rusty Peters, Marcia Purdie, Shirley Purdie, Phyllis Thomas, Freddy Timms, Enry Wambiny @ Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Sydney.
2009 - Floating Life - Contemporary Aboriginal Fibre Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.
2009 – Parcours des Mondes, Arts d’Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Paris, France; Dreamtime, Musée Les Abattoirs with Arts d’Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Toulouse, France.
2007 - Parcours des Mondes, Galerie Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Paris.
2006 - Christofle invite l’Australie, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob / Musée Bouilhet Christofle, Saint Denis, France.
2005 - Kaos, Parcours des Mondes, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Paris, France; Terre de Rêves, Terre des Hommes, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob / Musée de la Préhistoire d’Île de France, Nemours, France;Terre de Rêves, Terre des Hommes, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob / Ambassade d’Australie, Paris, France.
2004 - EXPLAINED, A closer look at Aboriginal art, Aboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
2000 - Exposition collective, Arts d’Australie, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob / Espace Mezzo - Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Paris.
1999 - Exposition collective, Australie – Art, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob / J.L. Amsler - Bastille, Paris.
1997 - Exposition collective, L’Art des Aborigènes d’Australie, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob / Galerie de Stassart, Bruxelles; Exposition collective, L’Art des Aborigènes d’Australie, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob / Espace Paul Riquet, Béziers.
1994 - Power of the Land, Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art, National Gallery of Victoria.
1993 - Images of Power, Aboriginal Art of the Kimberley, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
1992 - Broome Fringe Festival, Broome.
1991 - Aboriginal Women's Exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
1990 - Balance 1990: views, visions, influences, QAG, Brisbane.
1988 - Karnta, Touring South-east Asia, [non selling Karnta show].
1981 - Die kunst der Australischen Ureinwohner lebt, Museum fur Volkerkunde, Leipzig, Staatliches Museum fur Volkerkunde, Dresden.