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Exhibition review: Two Girls From Amoonguna, ACMI

‘Two Girls From Amoonguna’ is about pushing through adversity and alchemising it into art that speaks to the spirit and joy of life itself.

Two Girls From Amoonguna, created by senior artists Sally M Nangala Mulda (Southern Luritja) and Marlene Rubuntja (Arrente and Western Arrenta), is a charming exhibition featuring a newly commissioned animation film titled Arrkutja Tharra, Kungka Kutjara, Two Girls, along with paintings and soft sculptures currently showing at ACMI. The exhibition highlights the power of memories, storytelling and the importance of seeking completion and wholeness.

The childlike quality of the colourful animation is a vessel for deeper themes etched into the works, such as separation, institutionalised care and trauma. Yet, the sense of wholeness is paramount in the exhibition, removing the one-sided deficit narrative that overwhelms the discourse on remote Aboriginal communities and replacing it with a complete picture of resilience and love despite the hardships. It reminds us that, even in the harshest of times, it is our friendships that bring us joy and help us to transcend the immediate suffering around.

Two Girls From Amoonguna is about pushing through adversity and alchemising it into art that speaks to the spirit and joy of life itself. The exhibition demonstrates what it means to talk about one’s past with dignity and from a perspective of strength. 

In the animation, which is narrated by the two artists themselves, they reminisce about being young kids in a remote school where they had to line up and dance to the drum each morning. Yet now, further down the road, they are dancing to their own rhythm as resilient women, never losing the essence of who they have always been.

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It is a rare talent of an artist to make people smile (and there were lots of smiles from audience members here) while getting them to reflect on difficult themes and topics. It is a reminder to listen to the voices on the ground, otherwise we become caught up in the one-dimensional discourse on First Nations communities that is served up by the nightly news. Their work reminds us that it is the role of artists to use imagination and colour in order to process the past and reflect a brighter present and future.  

The animated film Arrkutja Tharra, Kungka Kutjara, Two Girls, uses Mulda’s paintings, giving off a sense of closeness and familiarity as viewers witness the movement of the paint strokes. The sound design is rich and detailed with Foley sound effects being used effectively alongside the narration, which elevates the entire work and fills the space with a satisfying soundscape.  

Mulda and Rubuntja remind us that they have never lost their roots as “town camp artists” despite their acclaim in the art world, and that they will always tell the stories of their communities and the friendships that have endured over many years. Even in the passage of time, where our external lives change, our friendships reminds us that our essence remains unchanged. 

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Two Girls From Amoonguna is a fantastic achievement in the exchange of the energy of the artists, lifting our heads toward the difficulties of life, yet pointing directly at the heart. It reminds us of our friends with whom we remain connected and yet unattached, colliding at different points of our lives, helping us to weather the great storms that life throws at us.

Two Girls From Amoonguna is on view until 20 August at ACMI, Gallery Three, Melbourne; free. The exhibition will also tour nationally from December 2023.

This article is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Axel Garay is a Torres Strait Islander (Meriam), Puerto Rican and Malaysian Queer artist, writer and facilitator based in Naarm, Australia.