Kitty Napanangka Simon’s paintings appear to be grounded in the abstract, yet it would be hard to conceive of more descriptive visual articulations of ‘country’ in Aboriginal desert art. Through the intersection of color, free-form shapes and dots scattered in strings across the canvas, Simon describes in detail the desert flowers, salt encrustations and natural features of Mina Mina, the home of her sacred Dreaming in the South Western region of the Tanami Desert.
Kitty Simon (b.1948) painted her first works in the late 1980s before hanging up her paint brushes to focus on raising a family. She took up painting once more in 2008, by which time she had four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Experimenting with various styles she eventually adopted a loose, immediate approach to painting and embraced a distinctly individual style. The works representing yawulyu (women's ritual designs) employ optic whites and an array of pastels in large sweeps of tone-on-tone colour to capture the feeling and colour of the desert flowers and the natural features of the surrounding salt plains at Mina Mina, 600 kilometres to the south of Lajamanu. These paintings were selected by Lajamanu Art Coordinator Louisa Erglis and Cooee Gallery’s Mirri Leven to feature in a Cooee Art group exhibition, ‘Into the Future - Emerging Talent’ in March 2013. Greeted with immediate excitement and enthusiasm this lead to her first solo exhibition later that year held at Cooee Art entitled Mina Mina.
With the demand for her work high, Pollon Art and Cooee Art organised a solo exhibition of her latest work in New York City in November 2015 entitled ‘Only Women Dance Till Dawn’ followed by her second solo show in Sydney, ‘Making Memories’ in March 2016.
Kitty Simon paints rapidly and without draft - the composition built anew on each new canvas. The act of painting is metaphysical. Her brush moves accompanied by rhythmic chanting. Ancient song recalls and brings to life the songline and story that she is depicting from the epic Mina Mina narrative. The very act of painting is a means by which she can revise and vivify knowledge of Country and the creation story of Mina Mina.
This epic tale is the bedrock of the artistic legacy of the greatest Warlpiri female painters Maggie and Judy Napangardi Watson and Dorothy Napangardi Robertson. It recounts the travels of the Karntakurlangu female ancestors, the hair string belts they made to carry their babies and possessions, and the magical emergence of digging sticks which, quite literally, thrust themselves out of the ground before the women during the Dreaming, thereby equipping them for their vast travels. This large group of women danced their way across the desert toward the east, where the birth of the day took place. They clutched the digging sticks in their outstretched hands dancing in joyous exultation in a long line as they created important sites and encountered other Dreamings. Hundreds of these women travelled on the long journey first toward the east, then to the north, then south collecting plants and foods with both medicinal and ceremonial uses. They visited many sites, resting at some, going underground at others and later re-emerging and morphing into different, sometimes malevolent, beings. They were involved in initiation ceremonies and used human hair-string spun and rubbed with special red ochre and fat as part of their magic. Kitty Simon’s tribeswomen prepare themselves in this same way when performing ceremonies that connect them with their Dreaming.
As Kitty paints – while her process is rapid and instinctive – each work is carefully considered and deliberated over, changed and discussed with the other artists. This sometimes provokes laughter and sometimes debate as each artist gives their thoughts and reaction to the work. Kitty's paintings are very different to Lajamanu style, but Warnayaka Art Centre has always had one or two controversial artist in its ranks. Her unique paintings have created a sense of excitement and enthusiasm earning her great admiration in the wider art world. Yet, those in her own remote community have been more difficult to win over.
Art Centre Manager, Louisa Erglis say’s:
This criticism has meant Kitty has had to take a brave stand and like women everywhere she isn’t alone, but has the support of her skin sisters and the women staff.
According to Warlpiri custom every Dreaming is watched by ‘policemen’ (kurdungurlu) who ensure that the Dreaming ceremonies are enacted correctly and precisely to accurately reflect the lore.
Steve Jampijinpa Patrick, a kurdungurlu for the Mina Mina story, explains that there is men's business at Mina Mina also. It is here that women hand over boys aged 12 through 14 to be initiated into men.
For men the digging stick is about how we dig up knowledge throughout the ceremony, and throughout life. The smudges and strokes, they represent everything in the songline. Might be as small as the creation of the pebbles and rocks. Once upon a time women were the bosses. Because all our ceremonies, they're all female. In that way, we honour women.