Gela Nga-Mirraitja Fordham’s work is distinguished by a pictorial format that shows events in a sequential order. This affords the artist an opportunity to elaborate on multiple pivotal scenes simultaneously, and narratives, both ancient and modern, are revealed in all their complex totality. Fordham’s artistic heritage eschews the use of rarrk (crosshatching) and relies on the application of vigorous dotting to evoke the sacred power of country. A major contributor to The Aboriginal Memorial 1988, Fordham’s 24 hollow log coffins are painted with potent imagery that describes ancestral transformations and the creation of Rembarrnga lands.
The artist’s raw and gestural style, his spatial confidence and his ability to exploit dramatic tension are evident in this, one of Fordham’s early public paintings. The narrative begins in the top section where Mildal the Blue-Tongued Lizard is depicted leaving his hollow log home to bake in the sun. Dadbagurumulu the King Brown Snake is shown as a formidable opponent with its grooved fangs, forked tongue and imposing size. A violent fight breaks out between the two ancestral animals, and Dadbagurumulu wraps himself around Mildal in an attempt to crush and poison him. Suddenly Mildal bites Dadbagurumulu in the neck with such ferocity that the snake is fatally wounded and Mildal is seen retreating to the safety of his hollow log home. The strength of this work lies in its relentless movement. It has a circular visual logic that repeats ad infinitum, invoking the cyclical nature of both storytelling and ceremony.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010