The magic of Daisy Loongkoonan, 105

One of Australia’s most admired Indigenous artists, and the oldest, is now exhibiting her work at the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art.

Born around 1910, Daisy Loongkoonan is by far the most senior of the artists included in Magic Object.

Held every two years since 1990, the Adelaide Biennial is the country’s longest-standing survey of contemporary Australian Art. This year’s event is the most ambitious yet, unfolding across an unprecedented number of venues in Adelaide, including the Art Gallery, Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art at UniSA, JamFactory, Carrick Hill and the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

Daisy is based in Nyikina country on the lower reaches of the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley, and began to paint when she was in her 90s.  Her emotive paintings of overlapping concentric and linear patterns in shimmering paint are laden with meaning beyond the ecological references she depicts.

“When I was young I footwalked all over Nyikina country. Footwalking is the proper [only] way to learn about country and remember it,” she said.

During her travels across country, Loongkoonan collected bush tucker, plants used for medicinal purposes and spinifex wax in the wet season. Ultimately these journeys endowed her with knowledge and materials for the traditional systems of culture and learning, as encapsulated by the Mananambarra, senior custodians of Aboriginal law.

In her work Bush Tucker in Nyikina Country (2006) Daisy has recorded a “bird’s-eye-view” of her country and the bush tucker within it.

While during the period of Enlightenment there was a desire and curiosity to depict and describe natural wonders, Daisy’s renderings of the minutiae of her country are beyond cataloguing and categorising. They express the deep spiritual understanding and knowledge the artist has with her country and the importance of maintaining and preserving it.

Her work will be on display in Gallery 22 at the Art Gallery of South Australia during Magic Object, which runs until May 15.

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