Nyangulya Katie Nalgood (b. 1946) is an emerging Aboriginal artist from the Kimberley in Western Australia. Her language group is Walmajarri and she is a member of the Aboriginal art centre Spinifex Hill Artists in South Hedland, Western Australia. Nyangulya is married to Nyaparu (William) Gardiner, who is a fellow artist at Spinifex Hill, as is their son, Zenith Gardiner Kane.
Both men assist Nyangulya with the underdrawings of her paintings as she is missing her index finger and therefore finds working with a thin pencil difficult. The subject, composition and paintwork of each painting are entirely Nyangulya’s. Nyangulya enjoys these family collaborations, especially as it gives her the opportunity to encourage her son to work as an artist.
As her artist statement below attests, Nyangulya has a strong affinity with birds, so much so that she has begun the task of documenting the birds of Western Australia. These diverse feathered creatures fill her personal history as well as cultural life. They are as much a part of her country as she is, and their songs are the sound memories of her home.
Where Nyangulya’s paintings differ from mere documentations of species is that she has captured a sense of the individual: a particular tilt of the head or the demeanour of its posture suggests an inner life that is unique to each bird, so that the painting becomes an intimate portrait rather than a representation of ‘bird’.
Birds are the first things we see, you know, when we wake up. See and hear. Birds are like roosters to us, they wake us up in the mornings. And when the sun goes down they go to sleep and we go to sleep. You know us old people start and finish the day with the birds. That’s everyday life between birds and humans, you know. That’s what I think about anyway.
I’m only interested in painting the birds in Western Australia and the Kimberley, that’s where I have been living most of my life, out in the bush.
When I was a young girl we used to have a pet cockatoo. I called it Mary, but its Aboriginal name was Waruku. We taught her to speak our languages, like ngapa (water) and ngarlu (shade). Our cockatoo was copying the dogs too. Sometimes it was barking! My brother and my father also had a cockatoo each. That was when my old man was building the yards for the cattle out in the bush up in the Kimberley, east of Myroodah station, and we were helping him.
We see the birds on the water tank, having a drink of water, when it’s overflowing. And sometimes we used to eat the birds. Us kids went out bush hunting for birds. Me and my brother. He showed me how to use a slingshot. Some birds are messengers. They were singing out when our families were coming for a visiting from another station.
Today we still hear the birds in the morning. I wake up the old man [husband, Nyaparu Gardiner] and tell him to take his medicine.
- Nyangulya Katie Nalgood, 2018