Biennale of Sydney

Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams

Photograph: Zan Wimberley

Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams

Born 1952 in Inturtjanu (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands), Australia
Died 2019 in Alice Springs, Australia

This project was executed after the artist’s passing by his collective Mimili Maku Arts, led by Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin and Sammy Dodd. All spears were made by Sammy Dodd.

Sammy Dodd

Born 1948 on Henbury Station, Australia
Lives and works in Mimili (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands), Australia

Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin

Born 1952 in Palmer Creek, Australia
Lives and works in Mimili (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands), Australia
Pitjantjatjara, Arrernte

Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams was a political activist, cultural leader and ngangkari (traditional healer). He proudly shared and protected the knowledge and duties given to him through his culture. In his art practice, he addressed issues including governance, sustainable land management and the protection of sacred heritage sites. As one of the founding members of Mimili Maku Arts on the APY Lands, his vision was to create more agency for Anangu artists, to create potent platforms for their voices to be heard.

Kulilaya munuya nintiriwa (Listen and learn from us)

‘Our Tjukurpa Law is all-encompassing. It was always intended to be eternal, but we know it is at risk. This is why I am documenting it now. I want to raise people’s consciousness. I want us to be acknowledged by the wider society and the government. I am hoping to start a movement of new awareness.’ 

Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams, 2019

Kunmanara was invited to participate in the Biennale of Sydney before his passing in March 2019. His vision for the exhibition was a large-scale political protest piece, working with the young men in his community to show to the world that Tjukurpa was still strong, that language was still alive and that there was much left to learn from Anangu traditional owners.

Whilst Kunmanara passed away before realising this project, his legacy has been carried forwards by community. Guided by his widow Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin and his lifelong friend and collaborator Sammy Dodd, Mimili Maku Arts has facilitated the execution of the project, celebrating the significance of Kunmanara’s words.

Whilst Kunmanara was a highly political artist, he first and foremost was an orator and activist. He always believed in the power of words, spoken or written, and in the potency of art to create real political changes. He was one of the founders of the Anangu-run art centre Mimili Maku Arts as well as the APY Art Centre Collective, both envisioned to increase agency for remote Anangu artists. 

This final project celebrates the raw strengths of Kunmanara’s words – all writings have been selected from his personal archive by Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin and Sammy Dodd. The banners were brought back to country, gathering marks of the land, of being read, of being carried forward into the next generation. In this process, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney becomes a snapshot of the ongoing conversation the piece summons. After the biennale, the banners will be sent back to Mimili for an installation on country. The process of sending the banners back and forth evoke the Australia Post mailbags that Kunmanara used to co-opt for his art practice, a way of sending letters and petitions to government via the gallery wall with the strength and precision of a spear. This final installation of protest banners has taken on a life of its own, bridging gaps between disparate parts of Australia and urging audiences to listen and learn.

‘Our Tjukurpa Law is not ending. We convey our Law messages to our young men to help them along in life, so that they always have the old knowledge around them. … I use the Tjukurpa, which was given to me by my grandfather. This is my weapon, my Law, my Tjukurpa. This ancient power is as potent as ever. … To you all in the city: Are you getting my message? This is Aboriginal land.’ 

Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams, 2018