interview by Meena Chopra | words by Loongkoonan | photo & art Loongkoonan’s own | oct 27, 2016 |  rustic

Loongkoonan only took up painting in her mid-90s, embracing it with such originality, confidence and dedication her work soon found its way into museums and private collections.

In the following Interview Creative Loongkoonan shares her paint & brush journey

Tell us something about yourself?

I am Loongkoonan and I am an elder of the Nyikina people. I am a proper Nyikina, one of the Yimadoowarra or riverside people. I am only Nyikina, not mixed up with anything else. My grandfather was proper Nyikina too. He died at Udialla. Nyikina Country is along the topside of the Fitzroy River: Liveringa, Jarlmadanka (Mount Anderson), Udialla and lots more places. I was born at Mount Anderson Station near the Fitzroy River. When I was born, no one worried much about recording the births and deaths of Indigenous people, or teaching us to read or write. Research by my niece Margaret suggests that I am aged in my late 90s, but I am still very lively.

What inspired you at the age of 90 to start painting?

I was always used to working hard, and the chance came up for me to start painting with my friends, so I thought that I would give it a try.

Tell us something about your childhood days.

My parents worked on stations, and I was a good-sized girl when I started work mustering kookanja (sheep) and cooking in stock camps. Later on, I rode horses and mustered cattle too. Wet season was our holiday time for footwalking Nyikina Country with my grandparents.

Footwalking is the only proper way to learn about the Country, and remember it. That is how I got to know all of the bush tucker and medicine. Nowadays I show young people how to live off the Country, and how to gather spinifex wax, which is our traditional glue for fixing stone points to spear shafts, patching coolamons, and making all kinds of things. Nyikina spinifex wax is really strong. It was so well known in the olden days that it was traded all over the Kimberley and desert.

I had a good life on the stations and three husbands. Today I am a single woman, and I like to travel about looking at Country and visiting Countrymen (generic term for people). I still enjoy footwalking my country, showing the young people how to chase barni (goannas) and how to catch fish. In my paintings I show all types of bush tucker – good tucker that we lived off in the bush.

What is the central theme of your painting and why did you choose it?

I paint Nyikina country the same way eagles see country when they are high up in the sky.
I paint the bush foods and fruits and rivers of Nyinkina country.

How do you feel being recognized Internationally?

I am happy that people like my paintings and that they get to understand more about Nyinkina Country and my life. I am happy to be an example for my community and people

How did you get your first exposure to the art world?

I put my paintings out through Mossenson Galleries in Perth who were working with a friend of mine. The gallery has supported me through the whole of my painting time. My first exhibition was in Perth, but I have had exhibitions in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, and now Adelaide and Washington, and my work has been seen all over Australia.

Did you face any obstacles from your family or society to get into art work?

My niece Margie was very happy for me to start painting as it gave me something to fill in my time during the day. I have been a hard worker all my life and it was good to do something that let kept me busy.  Going to exhibitions let me see more Country – and tell more people my story.

Do you have any message for the people who will be reading your story?

I have been a busy person all my life, no drinking, no smoking, just bush medicine. It has been a good life.

If given an opportunity will you like to teach your art work?

I like to teach the young people of the community about Nyinkina stories and Nyinkina language and I teach them all the time.

We are thankful to Diane Mossenson, proprietor from Indigenart-Mossenson Galleries, who has helped us put the Interview piece together.

Mossenson Galleries is regarded as one of Australia’s leading commercial galleries, specialising in high-quality Indigenous artworks. Mossenson Galleries has become recognised as a trailblazing epicentre for the emerging Indigenous art movement.

Mossenson Galleries’ innovation and trendsetting has been acknowledged by public institutions, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Artists from Mossenson Galleries have been included in major institutional exhibitions such as Culture Warriors: The National Triennial of Indigenous Art (National Gallery of Australia), South By South West (Art Gallery of Western Australia) and Crossing Country (Art Gallery of New South Wales).