Namatjira hand-painted directly onto the Museum’s 15-metre-long wall over a two-week period, creating the artist’s largest work to date. The work titled P.P.F. (Past-Present-Future) depicts a group of seven Aboriginal male figures, including a self-portrait, painted on the desert landscape of the artist’s home community of Indulkana in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) region in South Australia.
Each portrait has been painted in Namajtira’s signature-style caricature, he has incorporated influential figures, some well-known and others less so, who have been important in the artist’s life.
These portraits include former AFL football player and 2014 Australian on the Year, Adam Goodes; land-rights campaigner, Eddie Koiki Mabo; famous bantamweight boxer, Lionel Rose; Vincent’s great-grandfather, Albert Namatjira; the artist’s late father-in-law and musician, Kunmanara (Jimmy) Pompey; and an Aboriginal stockman who represents male elders from his community.
For the foyer wall commission, the artist has responded directly to the unique dimensions, location, and history of this site, in particular its significance in Australian colonial history as the site of first contact between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and British peoples.
As in many of the artist’s works, Namatjira has painted a self-portrait, placing himself standing on the roof of his great-grandfathers Holden ute, holding an Aboriginal flag and pointing towards the Sydney harbour.
“I’m trying to bring my neck of the woods to the city, to the big smoke, for everyone to see,” said Namatjira. “I painted this for the Indigenous people of Australia… I’m proud to be Aboriginal, and to have these Aboriginal male figures in the world makes me happy for our people.”
MCA Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections and Exhibitions, Clothilde Bullen said Namatjira’s painting will be the first thing that many MCA visitors encounter when they come into the Museum. It sends a powerful message given the historical significance of the site, known as Tallawoladah.
“Each figure in this bold new work has their own story of strength and resilience, but the work is also semi-autobiographical – Vincent selecting them specifically to speak about the way in which his story is also the story of so many Aboriginal Australians – one of survival and continued connections to culture,” said Bullen.
“It speaks too about the importance of representation and the ways in which Aboriginal men are valued and seen in the broader community.”
Accompanying the Foyer Wall Commission is an audio guide available via the MCA’s online Museum guide. Visitors can listen to Namatjira speaking about the figures and their significance to the artist’s life. The audio guide is also interspersed with archival interview recordings provided by the ABC.
Namatjira is a renowned painter from the community of Indulkana in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) region in South Australia working at Iwantja Arts Centre. In 2020, he won the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales for his portrait of former footballer Adam Goodes.
In 2019, Namatjira was awarded the $100,000 acquisitive Ramsay Prize at the Art Gallery of South Australia and was a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards 2017, 2016, 2014, 2013.
Namatjira’s commission is the seventh iteration of the Circular Quay Foyer Wall Commission. Previous artists include Helen Eager (2012–2013), Guan Wei (2013–2014), Daniel Boyd (2014–2016), Stephen Bush (2016–17), and Khadim Ali (2017–2018), Gemma Smith (2018–2021). For more information, visit: www.mca.com.au for details.
Image: Artist Vincent Namatjira with P.P.F. (Past-Present-Future), 2021, commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2021, supported by Veolia Environmental Services, image courtesy the artist; Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; and Iwantja Arts, South Australia © the artist – photo by Daniel Boud